Theatre reviews: The Rise And Fall Of Little Voice, Pitlochry Festival Theatre | Downs With Love, Assembly Roxy, Edinburgh

The Rise & Fall Of Little Voice. PIC: Douglas McBride / Pitlochry Festival Theatre
The Rise & Fall Of Little Voice. PIC: Douglas McBride / Pitlochry Festival Theatre

Being a teenager is never easy; and least of all for young LV Hoff, the silent girl at the heart of Jim Cartwright’s acclaimed 1992 play The Rise And Fall Of Little Voice, set in a depressed Lancashire town at the end of the 1980s. Mourning the equally quiet Dad who left her his much-loved record collection of the great female singers of the 20th century – and stuck with a good-time-girl Mum, Mari, who just can’t stand her quiet and reclusive ways – LV has one asset, in the beautiful voice she uses to bring back to life the great singers in her record collection; but when her Mum’s flashy new boyfriend Ray Say begins to take an interest, the pressure of his plans for her showbiz career soon becomes too much.

The Rise And Fall Of Little Voice, Pitlochry Festival Theatre ****

Downs With Love, Assembly Roxy, Edinburgh ***

All this is brilliantly brought to life in associate director Gemma Fairlie’s production, the second of the 2018 Pitlochry summer season. On a two-storey set by Becky Minto that literally flashes and crackles with the force of Mari’s energy and frustration blazing round the little back-to-back house, River City star Deirdre Davis delivers a tour-de-force performance as the terrible Mari, full of ruined poetry, and reassembling the remnants of her youthful good looks only to wreck them again with booze and temper.

Her performance is fully matched in intensity, if not in volume, by Laura Costello’s beautiful, fragile, glorious-voiced LV. Carl Patrick is superb in the great role of Ray Say, brought to life in the 1998 film by Michael Caine, with Irene-Myrtle Forrester and Isaac Stanmore offering powerful support as Mari’s friend Sadie and LV’s loyal admirer Billy.

And if the brutality of Mari’s final come-uppance is almost too cruel and misogynistic to bear, the play remains a great working-class story about how beauty can flower in the most unexpected places; and how dreams of fame and riches often turn to dust, leaving those who care more for love and music in a far better place.

There are tough times, too, for young Beth, the heroine of Cutting Edge Theatre’s ground-breaking new show Downs With Love, which puts the first-hand experience of people with Downs at the centre of the drama. At the start of the show, things seem to be going fine for young Beth, brilliantly played by the show’s star and co-creator Abigail Brydon, who herself has Downs. She is living independently, has a nice new support worker called Tracy, and spends every Friday night at the pub gazing dreamily at a singer-songwriter called Mark, who has a regular gig there.

The pain begins, though, when Mark falls in love with Tracy rather than Beth, whom he loves as a friend, but can’t see as a potential girlfriend; and the play ends with Beth’s passionate plea to be allowed the same dreams of love and romance as everyone else, and the same chance of fulfilling them.

This 75 minute show – which uses songs and movement as well as dialogue and monologues to tell its story – raises more questions than it answers, and features too many repetitive conversations between Mark and Tracy about how and when to tell Beth about their relationship.

But with Abi Brydon radiating star quality in the central role, the play’s focus remains true; and represents a powerful step forward for people with Downs Syndrome in Scottish theatre.

The Rise And Fall Of Little Voice is in repertoire at Pitlochry Festival Theatre until October; Downs With Love is at Eden Court Theatre, Inverness, today, 12 June