Opening night and the theatre was full to the rafters, peppered with well known faces of Australian showbiz and cabaret. Bernadette Robinson brings her sensational one-woman show back to Australia after success on London’s West End at the Ambassadors Theatre through 2019.
This season in Sydney is the final leg of her Australian tour including Melbourne and Geelong. A specialist in impersonating great female diva voices, Robinson has been steadily perfecting her skills over many years. Footage found of her performing in 2005 and 2012 show she was brilliant then but the performance tonight upstages herself. Surely the sign of a performer who never stops raising the bar.
SONGS FOR NOBODIES was co-created around 2009 by Robinson in collaboration with award winning Playwright Joanna Murray-Smith and Director Simon Philipps. Worked around five diverse divas, Murray-Smith weaves the stories and encounters of five “Nobody” women, each with their own personality, story and background to which anyone can relate. Brilliant, memorable stories with profound lines that leave you really thinking about your own life.
As an example, the opening scene features a Gwen Verdon “Sweet Charity” inspired 36 year old Nobody working in the women’s bathroom of a fancy hotel whose husband has just abandoned her. She questions what happiness is as Judy Garland enters for “a pee”. The Nobody points out Garland’s hem has dropped at the back and, as she kneels to fix it, a conversation ensues which she will remember for the rest of her life. The scene completes with Garland singing “Come rain or come shine”.
A Nobody is sent to change the lightbulbs in a Missouri theatre dressing room and stumbles upon Patsy Cline who gives the Nobody 5 of her 15 minutes of fame singing backing vocals before Cline sets off on her final plane trip.
Filled with humour and poignancy, the stories for encounters with Billie Holiday and Maria Callas are equally spellbinding and the most profound about Edith Piaf shows Murray-Smith to be a most extraordinary, emotive wordsmith. Accents from American to English, French and Irish feature throughout showcasing Robinson’s great ear for intonation and articulation.
With no scene change nor costume changes and a band discreetly behind a screen upstage, it is more an audio performance rather than visual. You can see even Robinson is more focused on getting the vocals as perfect as possible and closing your eyes to hear Billy Holiday works a treat. The lighting is kept simple which beautifully highlights Robinson’s talent and keeps the audience focused on the content rather than razzle dazzle.
Closing with her version of Puccini’s “Vissi D’Arte” from the opera Tosca as Maria Callas (admittedly a hard act to follow) had the audience on their feet for a standing ovation. Robinson makes full use of her years of experience that no young performer could possibly match. Yell “Brava” for this tenacious Artist. Fight for your ticket and catch the show if you can in this limited season.
Highly recommended, SONGS FOR NOBODIES is playing the Playhouse at the Sydney Opera House until Sunday 9th February, 2020.
Artist website: https://bernadetterobinson.com/