Charlotte Benstead will be directing Jim Cartwright’s The Rise and Fall of Little Voice at the South London Theatre, writes Michael Holland
The play tells of Little Voice, desperately missing her dead father, who spends her time locked in her bedroom listening to his old record collection and perfecting astonishing impersonations of famous divas, including Shirley Bassey, Marilyn Monroe, Judy Garland and Dusty Springfield.
Charlotte took time out from rehearsals to speak to us. I wanted to know why she chose this play: ‘I saw a production of the show at the brilliant Union Theatre last year,’ she begins. ‘It made me think about how you can stage what are traditionally big shows in an intimate space and not lose any of the key elements.’
Knowing the film and the famous scene outside the upstairs window I wondered if this was going to be recreated in a theatre. Ms Benstead, in a testament to her theatre production skills, seemingly has all angles covered: ‘Despite the stage directions saying you need a cherry picker and a two storey set we have put together a show in a space not much bigger than the average front room.’
Little Voice is replete with strong characters so casting is key in a show like this. ‘We have a really strong ensemble and of course it was vital that Little Voice could sing like the greats,’ she tells me.
That lead role has been taken by Bethan Davis who has only just turned 18. ‘She juggled her AS level exams with the first few weeks of rehearsals,’ reveals the still stunned director.
Charlotte goes on to tell me that Bethen ‘is a real find and is perfecting her Shirley Bassey and Judy Garland impressions using You Tube… The Lancashire accent has also been a challenge, but Preston born Fiona Daffern playing the put upon Sadie has been giving the cast tips,’ she says, explaining that ‘You have to pronounce your “g’s” – SinGinG and RinGinG – so different from anything my South London voice is used to!’
But this play has other meanings for Charlotte Benstead: ‘The themes in Little Voice are things that have affected me personally. I lost my Dad when he was too young and for a long time I could not process the loss…’ She took a pause before carrying on. ‘The play is about people stuck in grief and relationships – It definitely changed the dynamic and relationship I have with my Mum.’
The hardworking director had a sip on the mug of tea, that had been sitting there neglected during our interview, before smiling as a cue to carry on.
‘I have set it in 1987,’ she starts up again. ‘I like to give the actors a definite place and time to build their characters from, so being the 1980s there were also terrible clothes and hair – Big, bad hair!’ She laughs like someone who likes a good laugh. ‘Add the heavy petting and killer tunes – it is so my kind of show!’
Before I left Charlotte told me they will be collecting for the Firefighters’ Charity during the show as a nod to their theatre being based in an old Victorian fire station, and of course to Grenfell Tower.
The Rise and Fall of Little Voice is on at Stanley Halls, 12 South Norwood Hill, SE25 6AB from July 25th – 29th at 8pm. Admission £12, £10. Phone: 07701 055602