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Sunday, November 08, 2009

Little Voice and Jack the Ripper

J and I have been to the theatre twice this week and the two productions couldn't have been more different.

"Jack the Ripper" was an amateur production performed by the Royal Bank of Scotland Theatre Company, while "The Rise and Fall of Little Voice" is a West End production starring Lesley Sharp, Marc Warren and Diana Vickers (X Factor semi-finalist.)

It took us a fraught few minutes to find the Southwark Playhouse, venue for Jack the Ripper, tucked away in that part of London near London Bridge which, with its arches and narrow streets, is still so evocative of the time of Jack the Ripper and Charles Dickens.

The play opened with a bang that made everyone jump, and there then followed an exuberant performance by a small but lively company. With no stage or scenery, "Jack" was effectively portrayed by a menacing silhouette that was projected every time he stalked a victim.

For those who don't know the history of this production, the musical was first presented in 1974, transferring to the west end a year later.

The musical is largely set in a music hall and mines a rich seam of the type of entertainment you would have seen in those times, starting around the 1830's.

Stand out performance was from Helen McSorley, the very confident lead, whose pleasantly soaring soprano filled the playhouse. Helen is on the RS graduate scheme. I also liked the honest, earthy performance of Rose Mitchell as Lizzie Stride / Queen Victoria, and Gemma Rushton, the red headed Annie Chapman. J's colleague Lee Ford, as leader of the gang Daniel Mendoza, also acquitted himself very well with a swaggering performance.

Over now to "Little Voice" at the Vaudeville. This is a musical play that is rarely seen because it calls for a young girl who can convincingly deliver the voices of Judy Garland, Dusty Springfield and Shirley Bassey to name but three. In the film, Jane Horrocks shot to fame as shy "LV", who is forced to sing in a tawdry working man's club after being discovered by her sluttish mother's latest boyfriend, Ray Say.

The scenery and staging is absolutely wonderful: the house, with LV's bedroom upstairs, is so realistic, and it was amazing to see how the house swung round to reveal its front and then, with suddenly became the tinselly working man's club with the characteristic electric organ.

As someone who doesn't watch the freak show that is the X Factor, Diana Vickers was unknown to me, but she really is a star in the making and received a standing ovation. Not only does she sing exquisitely and soulfully in the manner of all the divas she imitates, but she brings a touching vulnerability to the role.

This could not be said for Lesley Sharp, whose performance as the manic slut Marie Hoff, LV's mother, was far too over-the-top. There wwren't enough glimpses of the real woman beneath the blowsy facade, so that when she was supposed to tug on our heart strings, it somehow missed the mark.

The charismatic Marc Warren was very competent as Ray Say, the Michael Caine role, showing the dexterity and command he brings to all his roles. Rachel Lumberg as the lumbering, largely silent but highly comedic Sadie, Marie's friend, was outstanding.

With a run time of 2 hours 45, this is a play that could still be reduced in length without losing any of the meaning. It runs until January and is worth seeing for the star-making performance of Diana Vickers. Sensible girl, she has apparently secured a separate record deal with RCA rather than join the Simon Cowell circus where she would be "milked" for a year and then dropped. I think we'll be hearing a lot more of her.

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