FringeReview UK 2017
Stylishly directed by Derek Watts The Rise and Fall of Little Voice enjoys Gerry Cortese’s split set remarkable for its pyrotechnics even by Lewes Little Theatre standards. Paul Carpenter and Trevor Morgan show how blackness and spotlight attend Jade Clarke’s singing performances. Charlie Pope’s and Kevin Cramer’s sound carries more than BVs for ‘LV’.
Jim Cartwright’s 1992 play with music The Rise and Fall of Little Voice sings out of damage into heartbreak and redemption. Stylishly directed by Derek Watts with Gerry Cortese’s split set remarkable for its pyrotechnics even by Lewes Little Theatre standards, the whole production inevitably turns on the title role created by Jane Horrocks.
Paul Carpenter and Trevor Morgan show how blackness and spotlight attend nearly all of Jade Clarke’s singing performances. Charlie Pope’s and Kevin Cramer’s sound carries more than BVs for LV, which acronym is the unnamed teenager’s shrink-wrap identity.
Clarke’s entrance as Little Voice is the opposite of a large one. LV is the teenage girl grieving for her slighted father and latching on his bequest of diva singer records, which she gradually shows she can mimic superbly, with uncanny power: Bassey, Springfield, Piaf, Garland, Kitt, Monroe. Clarke hunches in on a set with a raised dais for her bedroom with symbolic window aperture, and a naturalistic living area with electrically exploding cooker. Her life’s one long flinch from others and Clarke wincingly portrays someone in PTSD mode.
This production emphasizes the almost parodic physicality of characters: LV herself, Mari the alcoholic man-mad mother with exaggerated pratfalls, especially when wearing one show for five minutes; Nicci Bance as Sadie the blockish good-hearted simpleton from next door who at one point vomits into Mari’s handbag; Bance exudes both hapless stupidity and goodness with quiet mastery. Richard Arthur Baker’s Mr Boo the night-club talent-spotter lives one long self-parody in front of an audience he later on treats as if it were attending his night club in a fine high-energy skirl. Tim Freeman, recently Hunter in the superlative production here of Mr Foote’s Other Leg, sleazes on as manipulative small-time hustler Ray Say who hears that voice and jumps out of his seducing skin, much to Mari’s annoyance and nearly down LV’s throat. Freeman manages reptilian mock-empathy with LV, yowzer-type pizazz and an almost spitting contempt as each lizard skin slides off him. Say’s been described as a user abuser and loser. Freeman brings out his underlying last-chance terror. In Watts’ hands, everything is slightly over-emphasized, very precisely and on the whole with relish.
LV’s mother Mari explodes everywhere. She’s exhortative: ‘Come on, knock out a bit, make way for a woman in lust. ‘ Or encouraging: ‘What’s up with you lots, never had a shag in a Chevy?‘ One unexplored tragedy of both characters is that each contains the half of a diva. LV’s all talent and superb mimicry. Mari’s all sex and temperament but no singer. It’s her tragedy too. Lyn Snowden, last seen here in Two Thousand Years back in 2010, emphasizes the dipsy sexy drunk with wild swings from sexually uninhibited sentiment to sarcasm and vicious abuse – she’s by far the wittiest character on stage and Cartwright ensures we sneakingly sympathise with the one monster who can verbalise their frustrations even while we wince at it. Snowden shows vulnerability not in tender collapse but in teetering disaster. Her explicit use of an aerosol is just one highlight in a production geared to revel through rather than wallow in Cartwright’s often-unfairly-criticised language. You almost forget she wants Say and her new telephone more than her daughter.
But if Snowden’s vestigial beau Say with Mr Boo behind him represents one exploitative conga, another long line is attached to telephone engineer Billy, who shyly courts LV in her bedroom window, revealing his passion for creating lights, really for LV’s sake in his grandfather’s allotment shed. Dean Garnham ably contains a similarly strangulated voice to LV, a touching comical circling around each other as introverts who reach out over a teetering ladder up a pole. Both have previously played these parts opposite each other; there’s a palpable chemistry and reciprocity of voices.
LV’s discovery is mesmerising: from her squirming debut and more successful second appearance where she sings all the standards you could wish. Clarke hunches not just herself but on occasion her voice into upper registers away from her naturally rich, warm mezzo. The effect’s stylised to a degree, though Clarke’s own smoky register fits Bassey and the more pure-voiced Garland perfectly, as well as pinching into Piaf’s narrow-bore contralto. Clarke’s true personality is a big one and in her big sequence she combines LV’s hunch with sexy hip-swaying bravura because she starts with her back to the audience.
It’s Mari who likes pop though we never get the Doors’ ‘Light My Fire’ which might be apposite – Mari claims she could have set the whole house on fire four times over with her energy. There’s an extraordinary coup the outfall of which is devastating for all concerned but launches LV’s final bid as her mother abuses her. Defending her father too LV finally turns and raises her speaking voice: ‘He never spoke up to you because you’d never listen. I never spoke up to you because I could never get a word in!’ It’s an electrifying moment, born of electricity.
Those who don’t know the play or its outcome should see this, and even those who have. Clarke making her second LV might now be the go-to choice in this part of the country for some time to come. There was one final exposition that here seems cut, but apart from that this is LLT on its best form, and following the éclat of Mr Foote’s Other Leg the other highlight of the season.