She might have had a little voice but whoever follows in Jane Horrocks’ footsteps has some big shoes to fill.
And, after 24 years, a girl knows those shoes need some new soles - as does the show.
No doubt, taking on a role inspired by Horrock’s talent for mimicry must be a daunting challenge.
17 years after the 1992 premier of Jim Cartwright’s “The Rise and Fall of Little Voice”, X-factor star Diana Vickers won a best newcomer prize at the Theatregoers’ Choice awards. And while Michael Billington praised her in the Guardian, he noted that the shock of Horrock’s transformative talent had inevitably been lost.
And so, I headed to The Muni with hopes of seeing something different in new amateur theatre group Green Door’s production starring Lily Fontaine and Cathryn Osborne, who shared the leading role.
“Little Voice” is the story a shy girl, LV, grieving for her father, who escapes her troubled life through his record collection and is later coerced into performing as various showbiz stars in a cabaret show.
Both actresses did indeed showcase a tremendous range, rolling out the breathy whispers of Marilyn Monroe, the brazen assurance of Shirley Bassey and the billowing power of Edith Piaf.
But, ultimately, the cast, production team, Stage Manager Peter Hampson and Director Gilly Fontaine-Grist, meticulous in their presentation of characters ravaged by grief and neglect, proved that the element of surprise - of waif to diva - is not really what makes this story a classic. Rather, it is the startling characters, tangled together by fear, jealousy and desire, who have continued to pull in audiences for more than two decades. After all, novelty - in which imitation bases its appeal - always wears off. But characters, throughout time, speak the truths we grapple with.
Elizabeth Rowell demonstrated a breadth of skills as the brash and potty-mouthed Mari, LV’s mother, who neglects herself and her daughter in her chase of both a good time and the love of talent agent Ray. Rowell proved she has the skills to reach the depths of Mari’s character, depicting her fragility, a fear of abandonment cracking her “reveller” facade. And, in doing so, the actress illustrated just why, to this day, the hard-drinking mother remains an intriguing character.
But it is also the charming relationship between LV and Billy, the quiet electrician, another escapist, fascinated by lights, that sustains the play’s appeal. Gilly was careful to pick scenes that drew on the distinct innocence of their romance. And Josh Hindle, as Billy, performed with enough gentleness to convince me of the character’s acceptance of LV. What was particularly endearing was his desire to help to her take confidence from her fantasy world and, more importantly, from her meekness.
Solid acting also came from Darren Williams and Heather Kitchen, as Ray and simple neighbour Sadie, the exploiter and the exploited, while Steve Grist charmed as club manager Mr Boo.
Billington may have been right, the story may well have lost the particular shock that came from watching a quiet girl transform into Shirley Bassey. But as Gilly and her team showed, the lengths a person is willing to go to exploit another will never fail to disturb.