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The Rise and Fall of Little Voice

Dundee Rep
4 stars
Jim Cartwright’s 1992 northern English musical romance may now look
like a pre X-Factor, pre Su-Bo period piece, but in its lineage of
working-class drama from A Taste of Honey through to The Royle Family
and early Shameless, its depiction of self-determination against all
odds still packs an emotional punch. Jemima Levick’s new production
also recognises the power of the three-minute pop song epics that
painfully shy teenager LV learns by rote from her dead dad’s old record
collection, and which provide salvation from her drink-sodden mother
Mari’s increasingly manic adventures in excess. Everything changes,
however, when the latest flame Mari brings home is seedy showbiz agent
Ray Say, who thrusts LV reluctantly into the spotlight, even as young
telephone engineer Billy pursues her in a different way.

Levick and designer Janet Bird invite the audience into this gig of all
gigs from the off by seating them at nightclub tables before tinsel
drapes that offer an illusion of glamour light years from the shabby
two-up two-down Mari and LV call home. As played by Irene MacDougall
and Robert Paterson, LV’s immediate elders resemble grotesque escapees
from a John Cooper-Clarke poem, with the arch playing style retaining a
gritty edge.

Helen Darbyshire, in a confident debut, plays LV as someone learning to
express herself by instinct despite not being given the vocabulary.
Billy with his lights and LV with her songs are like some inarticulate
Romeo and Juliet who’ve found poetry in other places. The ending can’t
avoid sentimentality, and Levick goes for it in spades, but watching LV
blossom into an artist existing on her own terms is a lump-in-throat
thrill nevertheless.

The Herald, March 4th 2011

ends

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