The Rise and Fall of Little Voice – Working class symapthies modernised. (Theatre Review)

The Rise and Fall of Little Voice

Darlinghurst Theatre Company

1 Feb – 24 Feb YOu can grab your tickets here.

Images: Robert Catto

Typical of writing tropes in the 1990’s women’s battles against misogynistic behaviors need a female antagonist between the woke female and her masculine attackers. The Rise and Fall of Little Voice fits perfectly into this category, as LV (Geraldine Hakewill) turns on her mother (A stunning Caroline O’Connor as Mari Hoff) as the primary cause of all her suffering. Jim Cartwright is a superb writer for the working-class voice, which is where Mari comes alive, but in 2019 it is impossible to see Mari as anything other than equal victim to her trod upon daughter.  Psychology noted the absent father in the 60’s and the 70’s and the inevitable backlash had the drinking, cheating, or ‘neglectful’ mother again front and center by the 80’s and 90’s. However, director Shaun Rennie notes the slightly old-fashioned tone of The Rise and Fall of Little Voice and reinvigorates a fairytale style motif inside a stunning set by Isabel Hudson that evokes more of a Sleeping Beauty-meets-Rapunzel and rescues the play from being too set in time. Mari’s unpleasantness is transformed to a wicked stepmother sort of thing, and we are given permission to see past the play’s patriarchal rhetoric.

And what a joy it is to take up that permission, because the performance by Caroline O’Connor is worth the price of the ticket alone. Mostly trapped outside the enormous square that comes to represent the place dreams are dreamed or tested, Caroline O’Connor’s Mari is enormously likeable and filled with the exuberant joie de vivre that all consciences understand. In fact, Caroline O’Connor directed by Shaun Rennie becomes more of the embodiment of feminine jouissance as described by Helene Cixous. Mari is the ball of wild exuberance established in a refusal of nihilism. She is beyond her own pleasure and therefore will be forced to become a victim of it. All of her advice passed onto LV is apt and reminiscent of the worldly wisdom Shelagh Delaney’s Helen passes onto her daughter, the longsuffering Jo in ‘A Taste of Honey.’ Mari is a protective mother, always trying to see to her daughters’ passage into real life, who exhibits enormous relief at the possibility of her daughters singing career. She can’t mollycoddle her daughter, because Mari knows, better than anyone, a dependence on kindness will destroy her gentle daughters’ psyche. Life isn’t easy for women like Mari. To maintain her joie de vivre in the face of The Real is a refusal of poverty and misery. All this comes through Caroline O’Connor’s extraordinary engagement and forces Mari out of the realm of judgement and into the tragedy she shares with her daughter.

It is this key performance and Isabel Hudson’s set that allow Shaun Rennie to make something modern and powerful in this production of The Rise and Fall of Little Voice. Caroline O’Connor is supported by a superb cast, including Geraldine Hakewill in the titular role. Geraldine Hakewill’s LV is a fantasy combination of peculiar musical talent and ferocious, disabling shyness that borders on disability inside a Cinderella Story. This is a subtle performance includes a delightfully blooming connection with Charles Wu as Billy that is allowed to blossom naturally taking time to expand. The pair are hopeful and emboldened by a delightful engagement with Trent Suidgeest’s clever and interesting lighting. Consistent with Shaun Rennie’s fantasy motif lighting makes an interesting combination of stars, colour and glittering stage lights.

Joseph Del Re and Kip Chapman make the most of one-dimensional male characters that follow stock standard tropes. Joseph Del Re uses good looks and unassuming charm to woo us, only to crush us with the pain he inflicts upon Mari. Kip Chapman is fine post interval showman who gets us into the ‘club’ mood with his rallying antics. A standout in the production is Bishanyia Vincent who brings her skills as an exuberant comic performer to the role of Sadie, giving it a much needed simple-pleasures-edge to the numbing pathos of her role. Sound Designer Kingsley Reeve offers an almost raw Geraldine Hakewill voice that contributes much to the fantasy role.

The Rise and Fall of Little Voice is heavily dependent upon its director and lead actress to arrive at a declaration of success. Both work in this production, but we have the added inclusion of Isabel Hudson’s stunning set. With Caroline O’Connor and the rest of the cast, Shaun Rennie has put together an authoritative production that will give audience members a joyful night at the theatre, much to meditate upon and a spectacle to witness.