Friday, 14 June 2019

THEATRE REVIEW: The Rise And Fall Of Little Voice - Theatre By The Lake, Keswick.

I’ve always felt that the best theatrical experiences never actually begin when the houselights go down, but begin sometime before, perhaps when you enter the theatre, sometimes in the car on the way. Enter theatres in any city in the UK and you should be entertained for an evening from curtain up to curtain down. If, however you decide to visit a small theatre on the edge of Derwent Water amongst the lakes and mountains of Cumbria for example, you may find an entirely unique experience which the biggest London theatres can never hope to replicate. It’s the setting of the theatre which counts as much as the setting of the play. I made a full day of it, travelling up to Keswick’s Theatre By The Lake via Windermere, Ambleside and Dunmail Raise taking in the sites of The Lakes on a proper north of England road trip. That’s part of the experience you see and an important part of this theatre’s selling point. It sets your frame of mind before you even set foot inside and that’s vital for enjoying Theatre. 

The play I came to see was 'The Rise And Fall Of Little Voice' by Jim Cartwright, part of The Theatre By The Lake’s summer rep season. It’s undoubtedly a fantastic play to start with and it is executed superbly. The original National Theatre production directed by Sam Mendes had Jane Horrocks in the lead role as shy and reserved Little Voice. This production has Zoe Waterman as director with her Little Voice played by Georgina Ambrey who does an outstanding job in breaking the role away from what was originally written for Horrocks and making the role her own. We’re treated to an enchanting, powerful and whirlwind performance evoking the spirits of Marilyn Monroe, Edith Piaf and Judy Garland, demonstrating a vocal talent and energy to be marvelled at. 

This high calibre vocal performance from the lead sets the standard which the rest of the production rises to meet. Ambrey is backed up by first class performances from the rest of the cast, all of whom are enjoying a feast of humour and terrifically dark moments which the text provides. Naturally, this enjoyment gets transferred to a responsive audience who lap it up. It's a highly capable creative team at work here with some very strong directing from Zoe Waterman bringing the best out of a strong group of actors and text which speaks for itself. The real skill is that it is strong direction yet never overpowering. It’s the best kind of theatre when excellent writing is done justice by great performances from actors and director. On top of this, there are some interesting technical and design solutions which support the story as it builds into the final scenes where, almost literally, Little Voice begins to soar amongst the stars in a beautiful finale to the play. 

There are few weak links in this production and strong solutions to the technical challenges this play present take this production from merely highly competent to something which excites you, leaving you with one massive high at the end of it. There’s no higher complement I can give a play really.

Reviewer - Karl Barnsley
on - 8/6/19

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