Bernadette Robinson is a unique talent. She has the uncanny ability to reproduce, exactly, the voices of famous singers. Plenty of other impressionists can do this, but what separates Robinson is that she is also an accomplished actress, able to capture the personality and soul of the person she is portraying, including their speech patterns and language, so that her dialogue is as captivating as her songs.
Songs for Nobodies is a collection of five captivating one-woman plays, specially written for Robinson by Joanna Murray-Smith, to showcase the full range of Robinson’s talents. Not only is each an absorbing vignette in its own right, but each requires Robinson to captivate her audience with the sheer virtuosity of her vocal and acting skills.
First performed in 2010, directed by Simon Phillips, Songs for Nobodies toured nationally, and was nominated for a Helpmann Award in 2010. In 2019 it was nominated for an Olivier Award following a seven-week season at the Ambassador Theatre in London, again directed by Phillips, as is this tour.
The work is performed, without interval, on a deceptively simple, black, circular setting. Malcolm Rippeth’s evocative lighting design continually surprises by revealing, or concealing, features like Ian McDonald’s smooth accompanying band, the cocktail cabinet, from which Robinson occasionally pours herself a drink or makes a pot of tea, or the Broadway lights which unexpectedly circle the stage and proscenium to provide pizzazz at appropriate moments.
Costumed throughout in an elegant black dress and jacket, hair tightly set, her mobile features accentuated by a splash of bright red lipstick, Robinson, by changing only her voice and mannerisms, miraculously transforms herself into ten completely different characters, to act out a series of imaginary encounters.
Each encounter includes the voice of the famous singer at the centre of the story, sung with such stunning power and accuracy as to create the sensation that that person is in the room. For one encounter, she’s a star-struck cleaner relating her powder-room encounter with Judy Garland to whom she pours out the details of her own messy divorce.
Then she’s an ambitious fashion journalist who recalls an interview with an uncooperative Billie Holiday. She becomes a Nottingham librarian recounting how Edith Piaf helped liberate her Belgian father from a German prison camp, then a young Kansas City usherette describing how she unexpectedly became a back-up singer for Patsy Kline.
Finally, she’s a jilted Irish lass who recalls her experiences working on the luxury yacht of billionaire, Aristotle Onassis culminating in a spine-chilling moment in which she becomes Maria Callas to sing a haunting account of Puccini’s Vissi d’Arte.
Songs for Nobodies is a once-in-a-lifetime show. A masterpiece crafted with style and finesse by Australian creatives at the peak of their skills to showcase the talents of a truly unique and exceptional performer. Take this opportunity to catch this show while you still can, before the rest of the world discovers Bernadette Robinson.
Songs for Nobodies
Playhouse – Sydney Opera House, Bennelong Point
Performance: Thursday 23 January 2020
Season continues to 9 February 2020
Information and Bookings: www.sydneyoperahouse.com
Image: Bernadette Robinson in Songs for Nobodies (supplied)
Review: Bill Stephens OAM