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The Rise and Fall of Little Voice review at Theatre by the Lake, Keswick – ‘exuberant and affecting’

Emily Pithon (Mari Hoff) and Georgina Ambrey in The Rise and Fall of Little Voice at Theatre by the Lake. Photo: Robert Day

Theatre by the Lake has staged both Abigail’s Party and Educating Rita in recent years. Jim Cartwright’s 1992 play The Rise and Fall of Little Voice is a kind of riposte to both Leigh’s brutal class condescension and Russell’s scepticism about ‘traditional’ working-class culture. Cartwright’s play gives us two working-class women, going nowhere, Mari, an abusive mother whose language is effortlessly Joycean in its creativity and her daughter LV who communicates almost entirely through other women’s songs.

Director Zoë Waterman does a fine job negotiating the play’s lightning changes of direction and tone, its frequent switches between heartfelt ballads and surrealist wordplay, and ensuring that, whether we like them or not, we never look down on the characters. Greg Last’s musical direction and Adam P McCready’s sound design offer seamless transitions as well as changing the mood.

The performances are all strong, the cast handling Cartwright’s trademark monologues with real skill. Chris Porter brings just the right kind of open-shirted sleaze to wannabe impresario Ray Say. Eric Potts, as impresario Mr Boo, ensures the club scenes have an assured comic touch. Asha Kingsley’s gormless Sadie is a quiet treat.

But it’s Emily Pithon’s Mari who drives the play forward; her performance is one of irresistible tragicomic exuberance. Georgina Ambrey brings an astonishingly accomplished vocal performance to LV, making for an impressive professional debut.

The Ladykillers review at Theatre by the Lake, Keswick – ‘fine comic performances’

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Exuberant and affecting take on Jim Cartwright’s warm-hearted jukebox drama, featuring an impressive debut performance