Preview: The Rise and Fall of Little Voice

Beverley Callard tells Andy Murray why she’s happy to nurse some butterflies when on stage in the latest production of Little Voice

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Twenty years ago, the National Theatre staged the debut production of Jim Cartwright’s The Rise and Fall of Little Voice, starring Jane Horrocks and Alison Steadman and directed by Sam Mendes. Beverley Callard was then a star of Coronation Street, playing the luckless Liz McDonald. This year, Cartwright has decided to stage a revival of Little Voice, and he’s called on Callard to take one of the main roles.

“Jim had seen productions of the play done all over the world, but he always felt that there were different aspects of it that were missing,” explains Callard.

“So he decided he wanted to direct it himself, and that’s one of the main reasons I said I’d do it. I just said: ‘Look, whenever, wherever, yes!’ The play is amazing but the opportunity to work with him was just fantastic.”

Set in a small northern town, Little Voice depicts the struggles of Mari, a recently bereaved mother, and her painfully introverted young daughter, known only as Little Voice. Callard plays Mari who is a veritable force of nature. “She’s like a juggernaut. She drives the whole play, so you can’t have an off-minute. I think there’s six pages when I’m not on stage. But Jim said this is the first production where anyone’s ever felt sorry for Mari.”

Little Voice has reacted to her grief by burying herself away in her room, singing along to her late father’s records by the likes of Shirley Bassey and Judy Garland. But this is no ordinary act of bedroom karaoke. In fact Little Voice can belt these songs out with astonishing elan, and her talent begins to attract serious attention. Mari, though, has reacted to her husband’s death in her own, less obvious way. “Mari really resents him for dying and I don’t think that ever really came across in any of the previous productions. But she’s sad. She’s looking for something that she’ll never get back again.”

Having made her name in television, Callard’s not had much of a theatre career before now, and hadn’t performed on a stage in any capacity for ten years prior to the start of this tour. “It was terrifying,” she exclaims. “I’m a great worrier anyway. Even on Coronation Street, every single day when the red light went on, I would always be just a bit nervous. I never took it for granted. I’m just the same with this. An hour before, I begin to get nervous. But in a nice way, if you understand what I mean.”

Needless to say, the experience of touring a play, a complete text that’s set in stone, is an almighty gear change from working on Coronation Street, where episodes are filmed at a fearsome rate of knots. “A lot of people say it must be so hard being on tour and living out of a suitcase. But nothing is as hard as Coronation Street, absolutely nothing. Those actors work so hard. They’re there six days a week, 12, 15 hours a day. Obviously this is different because you can’t go for another take and it’s very pressured in that sense. And yes, I had loads of lines to learn, but at least once you know it, you know it. On Coronation Street, you film it and file it in the bin and then start learning tomorrow’s lines. So it’s very different, but I’m loving every second.”

It would appear to be mutual. This new production has proved to be such a success, winning so many standing ovations that the tour has been extended, with an extra 20 weeks now to come after the Christmas break. Such a long haul sounds a little daunting.

“Yes, it is a bit daunting. But Mari’s just incredible, and Jim Cartwright has said I’ve just totally made the role mine, that I own her. I couldn’t have a better compliment than that, truly. And I’m just not ready to give her up yet.”

The Rise and Fall of Little Voice,
26 November-1 December, Sheffield Lyceum

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