As the audience files in, the club owning Mr Boo, played by Duggie Brown, prances around the stage as MC for the evening.
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His glamorous assistants line the aisles giving out raffle tickets and his golden jacket – which would put Liberace to shame – blinds everyone who looks directly into it. His relaxed patter is the perfect introduction into the northern nightclub culture that provides the backdrop to the Rise and Fall of Little Voice.
The eponymous Little Voice, nicknamed for her quiet and reclusive nature, is stuck in a tumbledown house with her widowed, overbearing mother Mari, played by Coronation Street’s Beverly Callard. The young girl’s only solace is listening to and mimicking her extensive record collection – left to her by her father – containing all the greats from Garland to Ross. When her mother brings her sleazy, wannabe agent boyfriend Ray Say home, he overhears her fantastic voice and tries to make his fortune by getting her to perform in Mr Boo’s nightclub.
There are some stellar performances here. Callard is fun as the malicious Mari; her cackle is gruff enough to cause earthquakes and her physicality is gleefully overstated. However, the real highlight is Little Voice herself, played by Jess Robinson. With two years’ experience on Dead Ringers, it is unsurprising that she is a good impressionist. Yet as she reels off pitch perfect impersonations ranging from Liza Minnelli to Cilla Black, it’s clear that a master is at work here.
Unfortunately, Robinson is not given enough chances to shine and Little Voices’ set pieces are punctuated by glacially slow scenes.
Mari also turns out to be as much of a curse as a blessing; her character is entertaining but has little variation to it. As many of the scenes are hers alone, it gives the production a plodding pace that it can’t recover from. Similarly Little Voice’s love interest, Billy the telephone engineer, and Mari’s best friend Sadie add little to the already flagging proceedings.
Much like Little Voice herself, this production has a brash, Broadway voice hidden within it. Right now, it is just a bit muted.