Theatre review: The rise and fall of Little Voice at Bolton Octagon Theatre (staged at the Albert Halls)
The rise and fall of Little Voice was first staged at Bolton’s Octagon Theatre around seven years ago and its return sees a shakeup of the staging in a new home.
This time round, the grand environs of the Albert Halls plays host as the Octagon itself undergoes refurbishment, and provides both extra space yet a host of challenges for the staging of this now classic.
A six-strong cast is headed up by the multi-talented Katie Elin-Salt who returns as the eponymous and vulnerable Little Voice and Sally George as her self-centred and one dimensional mother.
This duo sees sees this powerful and gritty, northern story of love, hate and grief – directed by Ben Occhipinti – grip the audience from the get-go with plenty of humour to break the tension.
The story, if you are new to it, is on the surface the story of a young, withdrawn, young girl with a hidden talents who stays in her bedroom listening to her records, scarred from the untimely death of her music-loving father and mortified by the behaviour of her shallow, attention-seeking mother Mari.
Mari mistakes the interest of a fly-by-night talent agent as affection for her, rather than his attempt to take advantage of her neediness and the talents of her introverted songbird daughter.
Layered with sadness, loneliness and the simple joys of working class life, the clever recurring leitmotifs of electrical faults in the mother and daughter’s meagre two-up two-down home spark the changes in both their relationship and the collapse of their fragile lives together.
The production is both a sharp reminder of the fragility of family and friendships and a celebration of the music of some of the greatest female singers of the 20th century.
For when Little Voice, or rather the remarkable Katie, lets her talents shine she bring the house down with her interpretations of the music of Gracie Fields, Shirley Bassey, Judy Garland, Billie Holiday, Edith Piaf and Marilyn Monroe. Superb.
Sally George is both harsh and vulnerable as LV’s mother Mari, she dominates the production with her prodigious talents in this very difficult and physical role that is hard to nuance – she manages it remarkably aided by the talents of her best friend, Sue Vincent as the docile and comedic Sadie, both loyal and abused by Mari.
Ted Robbins stars as Mr Boo (he also plays phone man) and in what feels like a nod to Phoenix Nights does what Ted does best and leads the audience from the front of stage, it’s a clever touch which adds a dimension and draws the audience right into the storyline.
Meanwhile Mark Moraghan plays charming yet calculating Ray, who sees his chance in Mari’s terrified daughter while young Akshay Gulati quite steals the show as Little Voice’s boyfriend Billy – he captivates with his simple overtures and touching performance.
It’s worth mentioning that to fully focus on the production requires the willing suspension of disbelief as the absence of traditional theatre wings or quick exits of an ‘in the round’ environment means the production team are running on and off the set.
Indeed they do not try to pretend otherwise, which is refreshing but at times distracting from the dialogue-intensive performance.
There were also a few sound issues in the performance making the first act hard to hear but they were happily ironed out after the interval.
But all this makes the performance all the more incredible in this atmospheric setting and I would heartily recommend you find time to see it.
It runs until Saturday February 2.
You can book HERE