“You have to speak up, Little Voice”
The last time I saw Diana Vickers was in the less than salubrious surroundings of the delightful Nightingales nightclub in Birmingham and I was less than sober. Having just been evicted from The X-Factor semifinals, one might have expected the predictable slide into obscurity but she surprised many when announced as the titular character in this revival of The Rise and Fall of Little Voice.
The story is of the painfully shy LV who lives a hermit-like existence at home with her horrendous mother, Mari, and her only release is singing along to the vinyl records of female singers left to her by her deceased father. She has a prodigious talent for this which is only recognised by one of her mother’s latest pickups who then sees this as an opportunity to be exploited for his own personal gain. Despite the name of the play, this is Mari’s show. Sharp opens with a 20 minute blast of self-absorbed narcissism which exposes the full heartlessness of her character and she only becomes more vindictive as we and LV progress. It is stunning to watch, but sadly becomes a little repetitive, a fault of the play rather than Sharp though.
Vickers is actually really good: sufficiently frail and sparrow-like in her shapeless clothes to genuinely surprise when such a big voice emerges from within, and her opening Judy Garland number made the hairs on my arms stand on end. Indeed most of her mimicking is excellent, only Piaf was (quite some considerable way) beyond her. Elsewhere I really enjoyed Marc Warren’s hustler on the make, sleazy and manipulative in some lovely cowboy boots, but the hidden star of the show for me was Rachel Lumberg’s Sadie. Friend to Mari, she stole practically every scene she was in with a bare minimum of lines and a great gift of doing the splits. Her drunken acting scene in particular was genius and had me focused entirely on her throughout, despite all the action and lines taking place elsewhere on the stage!
I did enjoy this, but somehow it didn’t quite add up to the full sum of its parts for me. It’s too long which wears the patience due to the abrasive nature of much of it, and having the antagonists of Mari and Ray as the main protagonists just doesn’t work, even when the performance is as strong as the one Sharp gives here. Still, it was an entertaining diversion, the revolving house set does look really good, but I think I’d recommend renting the DVD instead.