|Photo by Robert Catto|
Darlinghurst Theatre Company present, THE RISE AND FALL OF LITTLE VOICE, by Jim Cartwright, at the Eternity Playhouse, Burton St, Darlinghurst. 1st February - 24th February.
THE RISE AND FALL OF LITTLE VOICE, at the Eternity playhouse, is a revival production of a play written in 1992. The writer, Jim Cartwright, specialises in bringing to life the travails of the British working class and drew attention with his play ROAD (1986), set in Lancashire during the impingement of the Margaret Thatcher government and policies on the people of that Island nation. ROAD's anger and ruthless observation has turned it into a classic, often revived. THE RISE AND FALL OF LITTLE VOICE, when first presented, carried some cache in the slipstream of that earlier work. However, watching it in 2019, it is an almost unbearable examination of the fury of a human's frustration and the actions employed to redress, to distract, from the aching pain of their own personal class distress and oppression.
Mari Hoff (Caroline O'Connor) reveals the consequence of the disbursal of outrageous spousal abuse. In the bleakness of her own choices, Mari seeking comfort in promiscuous and adulterous sex and uninhibited imbibing, destroys her marriage: her meek husband escapes his household and retreats into a chamber room taking his Daughter, mockingly called LV - for Little Voice (Geraldine Hakewill) - with him, where they 'hide' and indulge in the playing of recordings of the female singing icons, seeking refuge with them, in an effort to drown out Mari's raging comedic verbal vulgarities which are supported by evidential physical louchness, in the blighted suburban decay of this family's working class castle.
It is in this refuge that LV learns to mimic, the musical genius of such performers as Judy Garland, Shirley Bassey, Marilyn Monroe, for her father. Her studied renditions are superb. In this production even the iconic physical features of the artists are easily recognisable (just where or when LV, who is a recluse, a 'hermit' from the realities of life outside this musical room, learnt or observed that physical 'life force' accuracy is rather an unexplained question that is part of the faulty dramaturgy of this production - they are recordings - Long Playing records - not videos that dad and LV have used to escape with.) When this play begins, dad has died and LV has been isolated from human touch, left to survive in these circumstances alone. LV has no voice of her own that can be heard above the ructions of her mother and her 'guests', having only the mimic volume and content of the voices of her idols.
One of Mari's 'guests', Ray Say (Joseph Del Rio), a low life talent scout, overhears LV lamenting in her room upstairs in the voice of Judy, Shirley and Marilyn, and nurtures the chance that that voice will be his ticket to fame and wealth in the world of Show Business - beginning in the world of Mr Boo (Kip Chapman), a local entrepreneur of talent, in his pathetic club/pub of entertainment. Excited ambition and blind greed takes Ray, Mari and Mr Boo, on a voyage of destruction boosted by hope and faith in their own warped perspicacity. What unfolds is a story where no-body wins or survives well the consequences.
The Director, Shaun Rennie, suggests that THE RISE AND FALL OF LITTLE VOICE has a fairy tale ending to its 'horror' journey and the moral take-away that "it is the meek, the introverted and the quiet amongst us, who shall inherit the earth". It is a fairytale hope of Mr Rennie's indeed. "That the good end happily and the bad unhappily", says Oscar Wilde, "is what FICTION means." For it seems unlikely considering the little voice of the survivors of this play, who have no voice of their own really, despite that LV has inadvertently captured the attention of a telephone linesman, Billy (Charles Wu), who tentatively takes on the mantle of the rescuing white knight in shiny armour! to support her, while watched by a greek chorine like figure, Sadie (Bishanyia Vincent), in an almost wordless presence of witness. The explosion of speech that arrives from the mouth of LV, at the end of the play, does not seem to have any gained wisdom or knowledge, unlike that of the heroine Beattie Bryant, in Arnold Wesker's 1959 working class play, ROOTS. It is, rather, one of unleashed rage - like mother, like daughter, My Mother, Myself - one ponders and shivers. The abused abuses?
What may have worked in the theatre in 1992 seems to have been superseded by the passing of time and the evolution of politics and the social conscience of now, of 2019.
Caroline O'Connor, one of Australia's leading Musial Theatre stars (with an international history as well) does not sing at all - but is invited to release her famous power-house of theatrical energies to create this 'monster' of a wife and mother. Unfortunately, Ms O'Connor has no actor on stage that can match her offerings or energies and her performance becomes a one-woman demonstration that strikes the imaginative illusion of a powerful 4-wheeled vehicle whose wheels are spinning in sand, exploding with great affect, but not moving forward one inch on an absorbing narrative line. She is not able to find any traction, or obstacle to utilise to assist her to reveal dramatic clarity. The figure of Mari, becomes an isolated IED 'harridan' looking for a contestant to 'play' with. And there is nobody in this sandpit with her! None of the other actors have the same resources of power to match her and those lesser beings are bounced off the revving engines of this actor, seemingly, flat onto the floor, or metaphorically, against the walls.
Geraldine Hakewill, is impressive with the singers she has chosen to mimic and the meticulous detail of her vocal and physical imitation is astounding. The voices are recognisably embraced. This skill of mimicry is the high point of the performance. From my point-of-view the rest of her work is also a studied mimicry. The post-traumatic-stress symptoms of LV seem to have been, similarly, observed and technically achieved, for what one watches is a mime at work. It is work that is all an externalised result, not ever motivated by any insight, any organic, imaginative truth of the psychology of the young woman and her deprivations of an emotional connection. This LV has no organic centre. LV does not live, experience, in front of us. Ms Hakewill, instead, demonstrates an icy but accurate eye for mimicry - and we are left looking, watching a 'puppeteer creation,' that has no internal, infernal engine - no reason to care - a Pinocchio-like figure before the fairy touches with her magic wand - wooden toy.
The first act of this production leaves one not really believing a single character on stage. The interval is a desolate time. The inhabitants of this world are isolated robotics of caricature and external expressions of abstracted observations. One does not see a history, that is experiencing a feeling, that is seeking the necessary thoughts, to find the expressive means to communicate spontaneous actions, to tell a story that of is of any deep human importance. Nothing much is at risk in the performances of these actors. Mostly, it is show, no truth reveal. Mr Del Rio, relatively, flounders in his responses to Ms O'Connor and is 'flim-flammed' around the Eternity theatre space; Mr Chapman gives some grist for the 'Entertainer' of a John Osborne model, just; while Mr Wu, simply presents, again, his charming, bumbling, inoffensive characterisation that we have been wooed with before, and before - often with a guitar in hand in some moment of the scenario (is it part of his contract?). It is a class act, when appropriate, but is now just grinding in repetitive craft usage. What you have seen before, you can, reliably, count on seeing again from Mr Wu. It is called in artistic lingo: 'a choice for range'. The Brando mantra: "What else can I do with this moment?", needs to be more rigorously employed.
In the second act of this production Mr Rennie, seems to be reaching towards the stratosphere of the melodrama of the old style 19th Century Grand Opera, and fails dismally to get it there, principally, because he hasn't ballasted any of his actors with any truths and has been content for a substitution, mostly, of puffing hot air. No substance, no bricks, to build with. None of the actors seem to have connected the characters to themselves and, certainly, have not been guided to connect to the other performers either, to help build their work from. (Sink or swim, is what we are watching.) There is no believable context on stage for any blossoming to happen.
This production has more excited aspiration than applied skills. The geography of the architecture of the Design of this flat (house) does not seem to have logical sense - entrances and exits are a trial. No matter the gestures of metaphoric design imagery, by Isabel Hudson, or the 'excited' minds of his collaborators, this production does not camouflage the problems of the dated conception of the writing, it, rather, highlights it. It is an agony to endure.
This play when made into a film in 1998, had a stellar cast: Michael Caine, Brenda Blethyn, Jim Broadbent, Ewan McGregor and the incredible LITTLE VOICE of Jane Horrocks. This blockbusting talent worked well enough to please some audiences but even their expertise did not always quieten, disguise, an unease with the writing. This company, under the Direction of Mr Rennie, has a 'bollocks' of a go.
The best performance in The Eternity Theatre came from Bishyana Vincent, in an almost 'dumb', mimed role. Sadie, has an aching heart. We identify with her, kind of desperately, in the relative desert of identification with any of the other offers. Having watched Ms Vincent's work evolve over the last couple of years on the Independent Theatre Stages in Sydney, and especially after her marvellous work in NELL GWYNN, last year, and, on hear-say, her performance in EVIE MAY, at the Hayes Theatre, one wonders what she may have done if asked to translate THE RISE AND FALL OF LITTLE VOICE.