Geraldine Hakewill stars as LV in The Rise and Fall of Little Voice.Credit:Robert Catto, Photographer


Eternity Playhouse, February 6, until February 24

The electricity may be on the blink in Mari's dilapidated digs, but she compensates by blazing with all the bright vulgarity of those galaxies of lights that festoon some houses at Christmas. She's loud, too – as raucous as she is sexually voracious; so loud that her daughter has become almost mute in response, hence her name: Little Voice, or just LV.

While Briton Jim Cartwright's 1992 play might squat on the foundations of a Cinderella story and be adorned with humour as broad as the characters' northern accents, it's also a minefield of emotional barbs that keep snagging you between laughs. Balancing the humour and sadness requires deftness, and Shaun Rennie's Darlinghurst Theatre production ticks those boxes almost to perfection in the first half, before faltering in the second.

His casting was shrewd. If all mothers were as brassily obnoxious as Caroline O'Connor's​ Mari they'd be outlawed. As well as being a monster, however, Mari has the best lines: a brand of ribaldry and boorish good-humour delivered with spitting narcissistic sass by O'Connor​, as she totters drunkenly about on her heels, and her tight little dresses ride up her garishly patterned stockings.

The role of Little Voice asks that she be not only be besotted with her late father's treasured records by Holiday, Garland, Bassey, Monroe and Piaf​, but that she give striking impersonations of these singers. Geraldine Hakewill's​ vocal performances vary between spearing and adequate, with the little flaws actually rounding the character. Rather than a high-gloss, undiscovered star, here's the girl-next-door version, still good enough to lift the tone of the rowdy club in which she is bullied into appearing. Meanwhile Hakewill's​ physical acting – the gripping of her shirt like it's her last hold life – is compelling.

Joseph Del Ray is Ray Day, the knockabout agent who discovers LV while busy with the contents of Mari's dress (rather than Mari), and Kip Chapman the club-owning shark, Mr Boo. Bishanyia​ Vincent plays Mari's hapless neighbour, and Charles Wu excels by underplaying​ Billy (who falls for LV), amid the grotesques.

Isabel Hudson's eye-catching design makes LV's​ upstairs room an elevated box: part refuge and part birdcage. The production works well until the humour evaporates, when the weightier drama sits uneasily on all except Hakewill​ and Wu. The pace also falls away, which is partly Cartwright's fault, having elongated his own ending.

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