The Rise and Fall of Little Voice

by Jim Cartwright
adapted by Adrian Pang
Drama Centre Theatre, Singapore

PANGDEMONIUM's second production of their 2014 "Misfits" season, Jim Cartwright's 1982 play The Rise and Fall of Little Voice, is both sweet and unexpectedly moving. It's the tale of a painfully shy girl called Little Voice who spends her days listening to old records of singing sensations such as Shirley Bassey, Judy Garland and Edith Piaf and impersonating them with uncanny accuracy. Her voice is discovered by a seedy talent agent dating her mother and leads to Little Voice being persuaded to perform at a local nightclub to both delightful and devastating consequences.

The script has been adapted by Adrian Pang by transplanting the setting to 1974 Singapore and this works incredibly well. The period setting is no mere excuse for retro kitsch; it creates a wonderful parallel between Little Voice nervously trying to find her way in the world and a newly independent nation like Singapore finding her feet. Kudos to director Tracie Pang for delving wholeheartedly into the material and delivering a story that not only sticks true to the original, but coats it with a rich local flavour. Where the production falters is in its length and plot; there seems to be little ground that has not been covered by the end of the first half and the tragedy and vicious confrontations that erupt towards the end seem contrived. Tighter editing would certainly have helped.

Rising local actress Mina Kaye truly comes into her own with a stirring, soulful and robustly empathetic performance as the titular character. She conveys the jittery diffidence of the almost mute Little Voice with tremendous heart and stuns the crowd with her vocal prowess when she morphs into a diva tossing back song upon song with panache. There is also great support by Shane Mardjuki as her love interest Billy, an equally shy and awkward telephone installer who, quite literally, brings light into her life.


One finds it far more difficult to warm up to Mari, Little Voice's drunk and overbearing mother. Part of the problem is that her brash, vulgar and money-minded character has barely any redeeming qualities. Denise Tan milks the lewd gestures and drunken antics to death, resulting in a performance that tries too hard for laughs and ends up feeling entirely one-dimensional. The consistently crowd-pleasing Siti Khalijah is somewhat incongruously cast as Mari's earnest friend Fatimah fresh from the kampung. One wonders what makes Fatimah stick by Mari's side when she is so self-absorbed and dismissive towards her all the time.

Adrian Pang provides slightly more nuance as talent scout Ray Say. Behind the swagger and oily lasciviousness, we sense that he is nothing more than a failing, middle-aged man trying his best to succeed in life in the only way he knows how. Stand up comedian Rishi Budhrani also does a terrific job as the larger-than-life nightclub proprietor Mr Boo and his knack at comedy works well in warming up the crowd and keeping the energy levels high.


Set designer Eucien Chia neatly conjures up the two worlds that Little Voice finds herself embroiled in with his rotating set. On one side is the sparkly night club Boo-gis Wonderland, complete with a live band that provides solid musical accompaniment throughout the show. The other side is a meticulous reconstruction of the split-level flat which Little Voice shares with her mother. Once again, one appreciates the attention to detail in the production design such as the garish period furniture and the stained tiles in the kitchen.

The Rise and Fall of Little Voice is a solid and enjoyable production that reminds us all that everyone has the ability to break free of their physical and emotional restraints to realize their true potential. After commenting numerous times on PANGDEMONIUM's reluctance to adapt plays into a local setting, I'm pleased to say that they have certainly kept us waiting for a reason. This is a funny, warm and entirely organic adaptation and I'm keen to see them try this again.

The Crystalwords score: 3/5


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