Review: The Rise and Fall of Little Voice, Darlinghurst Theatre Company

A production designed with care and featuring performances pitched to bring the audience into the cacophony that fills the silences inside human communication.
Review: The Rise and Fall of Little Voice, Darlinghurst Theatre Company

Photo credit: Robert Catto

A well-deserved standing ovation from the opening night audience of The Rise and Fall of Little Voice. There’s a broad and there’s a bastard and there’s a voice that soars above it all, in a production designed with a care for the thematic elements and with performances pitched to bring the audience into the cacophony that fills the silences inside human communication. 

Caroline O’Connor as the mother, Mari Hoff, is blowsy, jaded and she grabs the house by the minge with her foul mouthed entry and incessant talk. Disturbingly un-self-aware, she initially roams the stage with bravado, loucheness and a titch of despair. Mari’s desultory existence is available to every person there. O’Connor’s performance is tuned perfectly to bring her character to a teased hair’s breath short of dislike. Even her hurling of little cruelties is perfectly placed to endow the object of her impotence with the viewer’s compassion. 


Her most frequent target for a superiority of belittlement is her daughter, LV. Nicknamed for her little voice, she is comforted by listening to the records of her deceased father and is able to imitate Bassey and Marilyn and Judy etc. Geraldine Hakewell has a show-stopper where her hard work astonishes the audience but that’s not her greatest achievement with the character. LV, cowers and stutters. And watches and hides. Hakewell’s pin-point characterisation gives every simper, every foetally expressed moment, an absolute truth. It’s as subtly reactionary a performance as O’Connor’s is generous.

Mari’s frantic man-hunt finds Ray Say (Joseph Del Re), a theatrical entrepreneur of the strippers and men’s clubs sort. He sees £ signs in the impersonations and works manipulatively and manically to make LV a performer. Del Re prowls and cajoles but there is too considerable a suspension of disbelief that Ray would hook up, even for one night, with the mother. The relationship doesn’t quite gel despite the excellence of their individual performances.

What does work superbly is the bud and growth of LV’s contact and communion with Billy (Charles Wu). It is a believable and sweetly enjoyable flowering and Wu negotiates the line between shy and wimpy with a purity of focus that easily explains LV’s attraction to his gentle strength. Also doing excellent work is Bishanyia Vincent as mostly silent bff, Sadie. Bitchily told to fuck off – regularly – hers is a discreetly empathetic comic performance. And Kip Chapman who has the most obvious sleaze burden of the show. His behaviour at interval is hilarious.

Director Shaun Rennie gives the comedy full rein in the early part of the show especially in the use of physical humour to draw the audience in. As the deeper interrogation of avarice and self-delusion come into play, he elides his cast into a clearer discussion about trust and communication. Mari and Ray, even when explosive, will never really speak in their own voice.

Production designed by Isabel Hudson to clearly separate LV, the setting utilises an upstairs room on under-house girders. Struggle class furnishings are contrasted with an aspirational bling striped backdrop and the setting and lighting allow for a pivotal surreal scene to have the intended power of disorientation. Lighting is well used throughout, from the look-at-me whack of opening to the flickering loss and obfuscation of later in the show. The use of colour around LV’s room is especially affecting for mood. Costumes exemplify character well and are decidedly recognisable in places. And there’s a bright apricot ruffled shirt that leaves no prisoners when teamed with a light blue suit.  

4 ½ stars: ★★★★☆

The Rise and Fall of Little Voice
Produced by Darlinghurst Theatre Company, in association with the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
Playwright: Jim Cartwright
Director: Shaun Rennie
Production Designer: Isabel Hudson
Lighting Designer: Trent Suidgeest
Sound Designer: Kingsley Reeve
Musical Director: Andrew Kroenert
With: Caroline O'Connor, Geraldine Hakewill, Joseph del Re, Charles Wu, Kip Chapman and Bishanyia Vincent

Eternity Playhouse, Darlinghurst
1-24 February 2019

Judith Greenaway

Wednesday 6 February, 2019

About the author

Judith grew up as a theatre brat with parents who were jobbing actors and singers.  She has now retired from a lifetime of teaching and theatre work with companies small and large and spends evenings exploring the wealth of indie and professional theatre available in Sydney.