The Rise and Fall of Little Voice set for Dundee Rep

Classic Ugly Duckling story of a young person overcoming life’s obstacles

The Rise and Fall of Little Voice

It was good news for Helen Darbyshire when she checked in with the voice doctor. Before committing to the part of Little Voice in Jim Cartwright’s play, she wanted to be sure her vocal chords were up to the task. This is a character whose pathological shyness shields an uncanny ability to mimic the great torch singers. It wouldn’t do if Darbyshire’s pipes weren’t up to it. Happily they were – and then some.

‘I knew Helen could sing but I didn’t know to what capacity,’ says director Jemima Levick. ‘The singing coach said, “Oh, yes, she’s got a three-octave range, she’s just never really used it before.” It was news to her as well.’

First seen in 1992 and popularised in the movie version starring Jane Horrocks, Brenda Blethyn and Michael Caine, The Rise and Fall of Little Voice is a classic Ugly Duckling story of a young person overcoming life’s obstacles – overbearing mother, the mother’s exploitative boyfriend and the crushing poverty of 1980s Lancashire – and discovering the beautiful swan within.

‘There’s something about an outsider that is fascinating,’ says Levick, who has also directed those other misfit plays, Beauty and the Beast, Equus and The Elephant Man (for which she won a CATS award for best director). ‘They have a different perspective on the world. You find yourself going, ‘Wouldn’t it be lovely if I could do that?’ because we all think we sing like her in the shower. Little Voice has that extra layer of magic because she can do the thing we secretly wish we could do.’

One reason for selecting this black comedy to open the Dundee season was to cheer up audiences after the feminist rage of A Doll’s House and ahead of the Russian tragedy of Anna Karenina. Levick plans to give the audience a good time, but she knows it will be tempered by an all-too-topical sense of austerity. ‘It’s a brilliant play about poverty and poetry,’ she says. ‘It’s a perfect black comedy. You find yourself laughing but then you think, “These people are living in really hideous times”.’

Dundee Rep, Mon 27 Feb–Sat 19 Mar

The Rise and Fall of Little Voice

  • 4 stars

A production of Jim Cartwright's hit play about a young woman who discovers she can mimic the voices of the greatest vocalists of the 20th century.


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