LITTLE Voice is inextricably linked to Scarborough after York writer-director Mark Herman made his film with Jane Horrocks and Michael Caine in the faded East Coast resort.

The original play that inspired Herman’s work is playing Scarborough this week at the Futurist, bringing back memories of the screen version but finding its own voice too.

Lancashire playwright Jim Cartwright set his original play anywhere in the north and his 2012 revival has assorted northern accents, albeit dominated by the north west mill town shrill blast of Beverley Callard’s Mari Hoff.

Cartwright is directing his strange, nasty, yet compelling northern drama for the first time in its 20-year life, and he has delivered a brash touring production with television names and pyrotechnics from designer Morgan Large for the climactic fire scene.

Both halves are preceded by pier-end turns at Mr Boo’s club and participatory games for the audience, co-ordinated by supporting cast members, who would be jettisoned from smaller-scale productions. Such retro entertainment sits very comfortably in Scarborough, of course, or in a Vic Reeves spoof.

They set the atmosphere of tacky glitz , before the volcanic arrival of Coronation Street star turn Callard’s drunken, selfish, grotesque Mari Hoff, motormouth mother of Little Voice.

LV (Jess Robinson) has shrunk into agoraphobic near-silence, drowned out by the incessant noise of man-eating Mari, especially since the death of her father.

There is too much electricity in Mari – no wonder the lights are always cutting out in their run-down, damp, terrace-end house – but no warmth in her, as she puts men, booze and a new phone before her neglected, diffident daughter.

Aside from nibbling on Ryvita in a kitchen always short on food, the taciturn Little Voice cocoons herself in her bedroom, all alone save for her late father’s record collection of bygone divas and an uncanny knack for impersonating their signature songs and best movie lines.

When Mari’s latest flame, Ray Say (Joe McGann), overhears LV sing, this louche talent agent sees his golden ticket from the last chance saloon. First stop is the second-to-last chance saloon of Mr Boo (Duggie Brown), the local club boss… if LV can be enticed from her cage to trill in public.

In a play full of life’s outsiders and leftovers, Brown’s Mr Boo is a weird fish, while Mari’s simple, sugar-loving, over-sized neighbour Sadie (Sally Plumb) is like a Victorian freakshow: the big butt of fat gags.

Beverley Callard is indulged with a head-stand, as if advertising one of her fitness DVDs, but is otherwise a believable monster in Cartwright’s cross between Greek tragedy and Shameless. Mari has tended to dominate past productions to the point of irritation, but not so here, and consequently the post-fire showdown with Little Voice is devastating.

Joe McGann’s Ray Say needs to be seedier, darker, while Ray Quinn is low key as Billy, the quiet phone engineer with the tentative feelings for LV.

Impressionist Jess Robinson makes the biggest impression as LV, with a dazzling repertoire of quick-changing voices that takes in more than the usual Monroe, Garland and Bassey. Watch her rise and rise.


The Rise And Fall Of Little Voice, Futurist Theatre, Scarborough, until Saturday, 7.30pm plus 2pm today and Saturday. Box office: 01723 365789 or