Watermill - The Rise and Fall of Little Voice
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Watermill - The Rise and Fall of Little Voice

25th April to 26th May 2007.

From Newbury Theatre.

Jim Cartwright wrote The Rise and Fall of Little Voice for Jane Horrocks, and if you saw Horrocks in the play or the film you might wonder how that performance could be equalled. Kelly Price, as Little Voice, is very different from Jane Horrocks, but turns in a virtuoso performance.

Little Voice is painfully shy, and dominated by her mother Mari: blowsy, coarse and loud. LV pines for her dead father and cherishes his record collection. Mari is trying to impress her new man Ray, and brings him round to the house. He hears LV in her bedroom singing songs from her father’s collection and, realising her potential, signs her up to perform in public. Singing on stage, and imitating divas like Shirley Bassey, Judy Garland and Marilyn Monroe, LV sheds her shyness and blossoms. But it isn’t the life she wants, and she ditches it to be with the equally shy telephone engineer Billy.

It’s a strong cast, with an outstanding performance from Lynne Pearson as Mari. You have to almost admire, as well as be appalled by, her single-minded selfishness. This is an Essex girl supreme. Barry McCormick is convincing as the wide boy Ray, with an eye to the main chance.

Alison Garland shines as Mari’s friend and helper Sadie May, dumpy and gauche but loyal to Mari despite being belittled by her all the time. At the end, when Mari is lying in the gutter at her lowest ebb, Sadie May comes and laughs at her plight. This reminded me of the Abbey Theatre’s 1990s production of Juno and the Paycock, where Joxer vents his repressed anger at Captain Boyle by spitting on him as he lies drunk in the gutter.

As well as singing, Kelly Price has to portray the extreme shyness of the character, which she does brilliantly, with body language as well as voice. But ultimately the success of the play depends on LV’s singing, and Kelly Price has a great singing voice. “Birds fly over the rainbow; why can’t I?” she sings at the end, and you hope that with Billy she just might.

PAUL SHAVE

From the Newbury Weekly News.

Showstopping talent

Kelly Price rises to the challenge of the starring role of Little Voice

The Rise and Fall of Little Voice, at The Watermill, Bagnor, until May 26

In writing the multi-award-winning story of the girl with an extraordinary talent for mimicking some of our greatest singers, Jim Cartwright makes considerable demands on the actress playing the title role.

Kelly Price, no stranger to the West End stage, but without a lengthy CV, picks up the gauntlet and brings to life the reclusive monosyllabic girl who becomes a glorious diva when she copies the artists on her dead father's records.

Ms Price may not initially have the complete pathos of a Judy Garland -could anyone? - but by the end of the play when she sings about that land beyond the rainbow there is all the depth of feeling anyone could wish.

The scene in which Little Voice (LV) blossoms, reeling off song after song from such legends as Bassey, Garland, saucy Gracie Fields, breathy Marilyn Monroe, contrasting with pure and beautiful Callas - is dazzling and the audience sat awe-struck at the glittering Ms Price's talent. LV is a spectacular part, played superbly by this performer.

Nevertheless, in a magnificent cast including Barry McCormick as avaricious cold-hearted Ray Say, Mark Bixter playing gentle understanding Billy and Nicholas Lumley as an ebullient nightclub owner, it is the wonderful Lynne Pearson who steals the show as LV's undesirable mum, Mari Hoff.

Drunken, raunchy, vinyl-skirted, not just down to earth but inches below it, desperate for a man, she sprawls gloriously across the stage, awfully, appallingly hilarious with Jim Cartwright's wonderful dialogue. This humour contrasts with those times when the pathos kicks in, but even in her darkest hours she tells her only friend, slow-witted Sadie May (Alison Garland), to up the deodorant.

After LV's success midway through the play, the comedy darkens considerably as the reluctant diva retreats into her shell, disappointing those who hoped to profit from her. Mari ends up mocking her fate in the gutter in a memorable scene in which Sadie May literally has the last laugh.

I longed to hear LV sing again, but it is not until the end that, perched high among glittering lights, she sings Judy Garland's best-loved song, this time as herself. The combination of Tom Daley's direction, Jim Cartwright's words and this great cast make this an evening not to miss.

CAROLINE FRANKLIN

There are reviews at The Stage ("vocal excellence"), the Abingdon Herald ("uproarious humour, yet manages to weave heart-rending sadness into it too"), Reviews Gate ("a well-timed, well-tuned and vibrant evening of powerful even heartbreaking drama") and the Oxford Times ("acting of the highest order is offered throughout the cast").