Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

Little voice

Nona Davies reveals an extraordinary voice in the central role of Laura , the eponymous Little Voice

The Rise and Fall of Little Voice

The Loft, Leamington Spa


The Rise and Fall of Little Voice is running at The Loft until Saturday 22nd July. If you’re living anywhere near Leamington, Warwick, Kenilworth, hasten now down to The Loft to catch it. As with virtually all Loft productions, it’s unmissable.

It is immensely moving, as it charts the transfiguration of a painfully shy, parent-pestered, fatherless teenager (Nona Davies, virtually a newcomer except that she played the crucial role of Nina in Chekhov’s The Seagull - how does the Loft pull off so many major texts?) to a showstopping star in this touching production by Viki Betts, who’s successfully making her first step into directing at the Loft, after some twelve years of scrupulous stage managing. No wonder this show runs so smoothly. And it’s not about Rise and Fall at all: it’s about Rise and Rise. What a great idea.

Apart from Laura, the ‘Little Voice’ of the title, stunning and beautiful, add possibly the delightful, dependable, empathetic friend Sadie (Sabrina Spencer, a fine, attractive performer able to span between comic assurance and a wondrous nobility), plus cheeky, big-hearted, love-seeking, ladder-wielding workman Billy (Charlie Longman, also a lovely, touching performance – and he wins through at the very end), the remaining three characters are kind of pastiche. 


A moment of affection - or is it pretence. Lorna Middleton as the tiresome Mari Hoff, and Mark Crossley as the curiously named Ray Say.

Who are they? The odious, sex-obsessed, seductive, self-admiring, Mari, Laura’s pesky mum (Lorna Middleton, an old hand at the Loft - including directing, plus widely experienced  elsewhere; and soon to feature in Leamington’s A Delicate Balance.

She generates a wonderfully ghastly, revoltingly sleazy creature); the cash-chasing impresario ‘Mr.Boo’ (his real name?) Rob Wootton back at The Loft after a gap (though also a Talisman regular), who turns out an enticingly realistic performance, initially utterly disbelieving and quite brilliant with his skilfully domineering audience manipulation.

And above all, Mark Crossley, who has brightened and dominated so many Loft Productions: Macbeth (to come this October; Goldberg (Pinter’s The Birthday Party), Valmont (Les Liaisons Dangereuses), the quavering Rev. Parris (The Crucible). Crossley (as ‘Ray Say’) is joyously versatile, and his pushy, frenetic, excitable all through in his performance here as he strives (and actually succeeds, against all the odds) to get Little Voice recognised for the vocal wonder she is. Nothing will stop him; even his yielding to the dreadful Mari’s advances is designed to empower him to inveigle Laura into revealing her true artistic talent.  

And vocal wonder the little girl is (?16? 17?). I mean really. Nona Davies’s singing, the sound she makes, the intonation, the delivery, the personality, are all sensational. When to accompany her loneliness and remedy her switched-offness she sings along to LPs in her room, which is decorated with photos or record labels of her own but also her father’s favourite stars, it’s mellow; when she finally hits the stage, it’s a real boomer – ‘Hey, big spender whammed us straight in the solar plexus. It’s gripping. It’s dazzling. It’s overwhelming. And it’s all her – little Laura. Gosh, she could, miked up or just in her simple home voice, headline a London or Broadway Musical tomorrow. 



Rob Wootton as the tycoon Mr.Boo and Sabrina Spencer as the comforting and supportive Sadie

In fact Little Voice has, in its various roles, been treated to some astounding English actors: Jim Broadbent, Ewan McGregor, Pete Postlethwaite, Philip Jackson (sounds like a rerun of Brassed Off) and perhaps above all, Michael Caine (as a very pushy Ray) – five of them dazzling in the 1998 film.

There’s plenty of fun and delight in what is, certainly, a comedy, and an acclaimed one, from playwright (could be a pun) Jim Cartwright. And the actors: a kind of Billy Elliott northerly accent all round (Longman’s sweet, lovelorn Billy, for instance).  

The catchphrases that repeat: ‘If you get my meaning’; ‘Bloody ‘ell’. The flirty, tarty, bottom waggling like a come-on Mari. Or individually: ‘What you got there, a box of privet leaves?’ ‘Where’s my knickers and my bra?’ ‘I am the key of the gutter’.

Part of the considerable charm is that Billy, perched loyally on his ladder, sweeps away the constant pouty character of Laura. He relaxes her. You see her veer from resistance towards acceptance. Is there a class thing? Not really: despite her pretensions, presumptions and poses (she can’t grasp the simple fact that Ray is slyly using her: his real focus is on making Laura a star – and making big money in the process). Mari, the dire mother, forever ostentatiously collapsing on a smutty sofa, is lowest class, plebeian muck. Laura is utterly different; her honesty and utterly explicable alienation render her a class above her vile mum. She has a future, and it’s not in this house. But Middleton’s mother Mari is yet another brilliant performance. And she’s just one of a tip top cast of six.  

lboie trio

Nagging. Mark Crossley as ambitious Ray Say, Nona Davies as the bullied and pestered Laura, clinging for sanity to her record sleevs, and Lorna Middleton as her tedious, fussy mum

Mark Crossley’s Ray (‘There’s gold in there; need to find a way of bringing it out’) is pure entertainment from start to finish. A bit like watching Leonard Rossiter at his funniest.  

Early on he plays along with Mari. But later he expresses, bursts out with, exasperation: ‘You’re past it; It’s gone. You’re naught but something to have after the boozer.’ Pretty cruel. ‘All you’re doing is getting in the way – and you’re in the way now. It’s through; it’s over.’ But was there anything ever anyway? Mari has no idea what her disobedient daughter exemplifies; all she thinks is that Laura’s a typical bolshy teenager.

Here - as throughout - Adrian Matthews’ lighting is fresh and exemplary. Pretty absorbing, involving, even exciting, as he swaps colours: green, orange, yellow, and so on; and Pete Harrison’s sound – except perhaps before the curtain goes up – catches the feel of Laura’s expressive voice perfectly

Later in the play, a few soliloquys follow each other in quick succession. The alcoholic Mari’s is splendid; Laura’s as she senses she’s beginning to shift her tentative attitude, profoundly moving, as Davies’ whole performance is. And when Rob Wootton’s Joel Grey figure Mr. ‘Boo’ releases the microphone to her for ‘Somewhere over the rainbow’ (Judy Garland, 1939 for The Wizard of Oz), gorgeously reprised by Davies: now the very opposite of a ‘Little’ Voice, explosively she sweeps you away. Sensational. ‘Hey big spender’ (Shirley Bassey is one of Laura’s heroines). Wow. ‘Wanna be loved by you’ – premiered in 1928, can you believe it, before Marilyn Monroe gave it new life in Some Like it Hot.

So, it’s not just shy, hiding, then behind unbelievably mature Laura who’s discovered here. It’s Nona Davies. Thrilling? Viki Betts’ whole production is that. With a modest but splendidly conceived two-level set from (yet again) Richard Moore, this The Rise and Fall of Little Voice is a marvel. Professional. Just what you get so often from The Loft.       

Roderic Dunnett



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