Review: The Rise & Fall Of Little Voice (Darlinghurst Theatre Company)

Venue: Eternity Playhouse (Darlinghurst NSW), Feb 1 – 24, 2018
Playwright: Jim Cartwright
Director: Shaun Rennie
Cast: Kip Chapman, Joseph Del Re, Geraldine Hakewill, Caroline O’Connor, Bishanyia Vincent, Charles Wu
Images by Robert Catto

Theatre review
Little Voice is the name of a young woman who spends her days and nights cooped up in a bedroom, listening to old records left behind by a father who had gone too soon. Her mother Mari too, has been unable to get over that death, hitting the bottle hard, and neglecting her all her responsibilities at home and in life. When it is discovered that Little Voice has an extraordinary ability to mimic the torch singers whom she obsesses over, we wonder if commercial success can finally lift the women out of their perpetual state of mourning.

In Jim Cartwright’s The Rise & Fall Of Little Voice, colourful personalities deliver an amusing plot, buoyed by witty dialogue and the alluring promise of spiritual transformation. Actor Caroline O’Connor is scintillating as Mari, a lost but energetic soul, determined to find a man to rescue her from misery. O’Connor’s magnetism is the highlight of the piece, detailed and humorous; she keeps us totally engrossed. Geraldine Hakewill plays the eponymous role with an admirable intensity, particularly charming in her impersonations of Judy Garland, Marilyn Monroe and Billie Holiday, but it is arguable if her narrative arc is conveyed with sufficient power, for the show to sing with poignancy.

Ray Say is a pivotal character, the dastardly male who brings out the worst of Mari, and the best of Little Voice. Performed by an irrepressible Joseph Del Re, who makes his part vibrant yet surprisingly authentic, with a confident presence that never fails to secure our undivided attention. Also captivating is Kip Chapman, who takes on jester duties as Lou Boo, a club manager of disrepute, brilliantly quirky and very funny. Bishanyia Vincent and Charles Wu shine in their quiet roles (as Sadie and Billy, respectively), both tugging at our heartstrings with gentle restraint.

It is a sumptuously designed production. Isabel Hudson’s striking set cleverly addresses the play’s various requirements for locations, memorable for the use of obsolete audio tape in its rendition of a tinselled backdrop. Lights by Trent Suidgeest are often spectacular, appropriately splashy in this tale of show business and poverty. Sound design is thoroughly explored by Kingsley Reeve, who makes rich and enjoyable, the show’s important auditory dimensions. All these immense talents are brought to an elegant harmony by director Shaun Rennie, for a show that is perhaps less than the sum of its parts, but he does manage to create a consistently entertaining night of theatre, out of a lightweight piece of nostalgic writing.

We find it hard to be moved by Little Voice’s final realisation that she needs courage, because this revelation is of course, no revelation at all. It is true that a woman needs to learn how to roar, in a place that routinely robs you of your worth, but revenge is not the essence of Little Voice’s story. We become great, not because of bad men (or women), but in spite of them. The talents that she possesses had always existed, and to give her nemesis any credit for her burgeoning, is simply uninspired storytelling. The playwright insists that Little Voice is nothing without her father, her talent agent and her love interest. We know otherwise.

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