The hook for this revival of Jim Cartwright’s famed 1992 play is that for the first time the roles of Mari Hoff and Little Voice are played by a real-life mother and daughter. Given that the two characters exist in a state of mutual antipathy and that LV spends much of the play hiding in her bedroom, I can’t say that the casting adds much to the chemistry, but Tom Latter’s capable production reminds us why Cartwright’s work is now a staple part of the repertory.
It plays on two standard dramatic storylines. One is of the shy daughter who escapes the clutches of a domineering working-class mother, which Shelagh Delaney popularised in A Taste of Honey. The other is that of the young woman who finally transcends mimicry to discover her own voice, which was the theme of Arnold Wesker’s Roots. Cartwright cunningly combines the two by showing his cowed heroine, who apes the vocal styles of the singers in her dead dad’s vinyl collection, suddenly bursting forth in her own tones.
A lot hinges on the casting, and Rafaella Hutchinson, in a role made famous by Jane Horrocks on stage and film, is so initially reticent you never quite believe a seedy showbiz promoter would have been captivated by her vocal mimicry. She comes into her own in the club scene, however, when she gives us bravura, if not mercilessly exact, imitations of Shirley Bassey, Judy Garland and Peggy Lee. Sally George has the easier role as Mari and captures the pathos of a woman who makes the transition from blowsy boozer, who typically remarks “shame ran right up me leg”, to bilious wreck. I especially liked Shaun Prendergast, who turns a leering club-owner into a low-grade version of John Osborne’s Archie Rice, and Linford Johnson is quietly charming as Little Voice’s one ally.
Cartwright’s Cinderella story has lost much of its initial surprise, but if it is enjoying a spate of revivals, it is because, in an age of bombastic egoism, it unfashionably suggests the meek shall inherit the Earth.
• At Park theatre, London, until 15 September.
This article was originally sourced from here.