The Rise and Fall of Little Voice – Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough

Serena Manteghi in The Rise and Fall of Little Voice at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough. Picture: Sam Taylor

The Rise and Fall of Little Voice continues at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough until 19 August (in rep).

Star rating: four stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ✩

Despite the disappointments of the all-star, 1998 film, the stage version of Jim Cartwright’s Little Voice continues to beguile the British public. The latest rendering, at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, elicited that rare accolade in Scarborough – a standing ovation.

SJT’s artistic director Paul Robinson gives us a show nicely balanced between the twin themes of performance (the isolation and vulnerability of an individual standing alone in an unforgiving spotlight) and dysfunctional families.

Little Voice signals a changing of the guard at the Stephen Joseph and there is a noticeably different feel to this show.

Serena Manteghi, as the eponymous heroine (LV) is required to swing wildly between elective mute and extrovert diva. She does it so well that when she is in her bedroom, playing her father’s records, it is difficult to visualise her belting out ‘Big Spender’ or ‘Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien’ in front of a nightclub audience .

Her delicate relationship with the marginally less introverted Billy (Gurjeet Singh) provides the counterpoint to the raunchiness of Mari, her mother, and boyfriend Ray Say.

Drunken and brassy, Mari’s (Polly Lister) role provides shape and forward momentum. She offers some marvellous fun as she dances with her friend Sadie (Laura Crowhurst) and hurls abuse at all around her.

Constantly threatening to go over the top, Lister generates the energy and lust for life that redeem Mari’s vulgarity. She continues a long line of overbearing stage mothers such as Momma Rose.

Ray Say (Sean McKenzie) and club owner Mr Boo (Siôn Tudor Owen) are not the oleaginous chancers of other productions, but they certainly recognise a meal ticket in LV. I do not know if it was Robinson’s direction, but I almost felt that they had a genuine desire for LV to succeed that transcended their own self interest.

The set (Tim Meacock) and lighting (Jason Taylor) are anything but minimalist. Exploding electrical appliances and fusing lights become crucial plot devices, and torches and floodlighting provide running motifs and a spectacular conclusion.

LV’s cabaret scene stands at the apex of the plot and live audiences are rightly impressed with an actor who can detonate the voices of Shirley Bassey, Edith Piaf, et al.

Naturally, some imitations are closer to the originals than others, but all are within Manteghi’s vocal range. Finding her own voice as the lights fades makes for a poignant ending.

Mike Tilling


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