The Rise and Fall of Little Voice, an Olivier-prize winning comedy, originally written by Jim Cartwright and directed by Sam Mendes in London’s West End, is given a distinctively Singaporean twist by Pangdemonium! The titular character Little Voice is a shy girl (played by Mina Kaye) who speaks in a minute, almost indiscernible voice and is generally a social recluse, spending most of the time in her bedroom listening to old records left behind by her dead father, whom she misses dearly.
The play is set in the olden times, where iconic divas like Barbra Streisand and Marilyn Monroe rule the airwaves and the big screen. Her mother Mari (played by a make-up caked Denise Tan) is a hopeless drunkard falling all over herself (and her boyfriend) most of the time – hardly motherly material. She is loud and crass, spewing enough expletives to torment ear buds for a century, and carelessly torments her daughter with harsh words and accusations. It becomes very apparent that she does it to bolster her confidence – she have nothing to show for, and she is absurdly ashamed of her daughter’s meek nature, belittling her in front of her seemingly sole friend and boyfriend (small time talent scout Ray Say, played by Adrian Pang). Over at Mari’s place, is where all the action is happening, and it is also where Ray Say discovered Little Voice. Humour intersperses throughout the play – quips using dialect makes the play inject a refreshingly traditional and authentic vibe, unapologetic racist jokes provoke uproarious laughter and sexual innuendos that veer between absurdly cheesy and raised-eyebrow worthy makes the play ridiculously fun to watch.
The coming of age story of a girl who discovered her voice, first by doing spot-on impersonations of famous divas’ voices and at last singing in her own beautiful voice, is perhaps metaphorical, depicting her journey of self-discovery. The oddball romance thrown into the story is barely fleshed out though- being socially-awkward is apparently the in-thing these days, if her love interest is anything to go. The cycle goes like this – Billy (played by Shane Mardjuki) climbs to the rooftop, taps on her window, converses with her about his love for lights. Hey, that is a lot effort to talk to a girl, so one must give him props for that.
Little Voice is forcefully persuaded to perform in front of the club’s audience (cleverly, Pangdemonium! has made the play’s audience the club’s audience, adding another layer of reality to the play that is quite immersive). First time was not the charm- she falters and ran down the stage, leaving her mother hysterically embarrassed, where she took the chance to harass Little Voice and drone on about how useless she is. All this violent energy soon morphs into maniacal groping as Adrian Pang’s character is cornered and ravaged by the boozed-out Mari. Turns out, the sight of her actually disgusts him and he makes it blatantly clear towards the end where he declares that the pursuit was only for LV and not Mari – he needs her to cement his stardom at Boogis Wonderland, the club (very appropriate, considering that the Drama Centre Theatre is in Bugis! Props to that.).
As the end approaches, it is evidently clear that everyone banked on the wrong ticket to success – Mari banked on Ray, and Ray banked on Little Voice, but it all crumbles as they realised that failure is the only reality. A devastating fire ripped through the house; leaving everything in shambles – surprisingly Little Voice’s bedroom is unscathed. Her mother, crazed by the sight of the old records which reminded her of the close relationship Little Voice had with her late husband flipped out and literally flipped out all the old records into the burned debris. Which is a good thing, because she switched from impersonations to singing using her real voice. Heroine reaches her full potential, the romance seems to work out, the “evil” characters are punished – sounds like an Enid Blyton tale but it is indeed a satisfying play with many laughs in between.