By Rose Mckean
“Always be a first-rate version of yourself, instead of a second-rate version of somebody else.”
These iconic words ring true in Cartwright’s classic: The Rise and Fall of Little Voice, which tells the touching story of a reclusive young songbird finding her voice. Crippled by shyness and tethered to her suffocating mother, LV hides a secret talent: an uncanny ability to echo the most iconic singers of the 20th century. Whether it be Shirley Bassey’s full-blooded booming, or Judy Garland’s rich vibrato, LV’s impressions not only sustain her fragile hold on sanity, but become the centre point for the many conflicts that unfold.
The 1992 classic is handled with care by co-directors Rachel Flannagan and Oliver Basford. A revival could have easily become as derivative an imitation of the original as LV’s impressions, they balance the play’s pervasive nostalgia with a deep understanding of the emotional truths at its core.
At its heart the play deals with what it means to be truly understood. The tentative relationship of mutual understanding between LV (Scarlet Simmons) and Billy (Mitchell Siddons) is portrayed with a remarkable delicacy and sensitivity on both sides. Ashley Milne provides a powerful counterpoint to this understated romance in her rendition of raucous and man-hungry Mari, (LV’s mother), whose linguistic dexterity and exquisite ability to turn anything into a double entendre, is delivered with sizzling energy.
The true standout performance is that of Scarlet Simmons. Though LV is a girl of few words, Simmons’ silences are as eloquent and expressive as Mari’s rambling speeches; and her deft ability to leap from one eerily accurate impression to another is astonishing. Though LV is so frequently ignored onstage by other characters, my eyes were constantly drawn to her. Throughout Simmons conveys a true depth of emotion that culminates in her powerful final performance of ‘Maybe This Time’. I suspect Simmons herself is a voice on the rise.
Light and sound design (executed by Mar Blaise Prokesz and Eleanor Hibbert) are integral to the play’s interest in what it is to be seen and heard, propelling the play into the realm of the fantastical. Blown fuses punctuate the action, bursting with pent-up energy, culminating in a magnificent coup de théâtre in the second half of the play. The split-level set designed by Ashleigh Thomson is also cleverly utilised, drawing the audience into the decrepit, self-contained world that LV and her mother occupy. From the peeling wallpaper to the aging carpet, the air is thick with nostalgia, a longing for the past that reverberates through LV’s obsessive replaying of her father’s records.
With a running time of 2 hours and 30 minutes the play is a long one. Nevertheless, inside the dingy apartment time does not seem to pass as in the outside world. It is a play that will take you from laughter to tears, from moments of loud emotion to quiet humour. The Rise and Fall of Little Voice expresses the beauty that can be found in what seems little and insignificant – the value of what can be heard if you take the time to listen. I highly recommend you heed this advice and attend the production’s final two nights at the Barn – you won’t want to stop listening.