Songs for Nobodies is a musical play which operates on a very simple premise: five ‘nobodies’ tell the story of how their lives were touched by a brief encounter with an iconic singer. The marvel of this piece is in the complexity of each of these characters, and more than that, they are all played by one impressive actress.
This piece was written to showcase the exquisite and unique talents of its accomplished star, Bernadette Robinson, and this perfect production does exactly that! The rich evocative writing in the script by Australia’s foremost female playwright, Joanna Murray-Smith (Honour, Bombshells, The Female of the Species) gives each story the casual nonchalance of a friendly chat with the audience, but with a depth of touching sincerity in the ‘nobodies’ and the ‘somebodies’ alike. The subtlety in the direction by Simon Phillips promotes these qualities in the writing. Each of the five women who tell their stories share a drink with us in the comfort of their own space, as though we are all just relaxing in the living room of an old friend.
Bernadette commands the stage with ease and draws the audience into her from the first moment. The first nobody, a slight, squeaky-voiced bathroom attendant, humbly tells the story of her brush with Judy Garland, and as Bernadette effortlessly transitions back and forth between this timid attendant and the iconic starlet, we easily accept that there are no impersonations or caricatures in this production; but only considered, connected and complete characters. One might be forgiven for thinking they were actually watching a medium channelling these ten women, rather than believing an actor could be so complete in their portrayal of such a range of characters, seamlessly flitting between them without the slightest hesitation or inconsistency. Bernadette is clearly a master of accents and mimicry; and her vocal prowess is as evident in Billie Holliday’s raspy ‘Strange Fruit’ or the country licks of Patsy Cline, as it is in the rich velvet tones of Edith Piaf and the soaring soprano of Maria Callas. Though it is difficult to identify any particular stand-out among such a wealth of riches in these ten characters, I was particularly drawn to the story of an English woman whose father encounters ‘the little sparrow’ in war-torn Germany, her tale delicately coloured with the innocence of her childhood, then most impressively poured out in the desperate emotion of Edith Piaf’s famous vocals.
Songs for Nobodies is simply superb entertainment. The script and songs alike were rich with charisma, humour and empathy. It was a most enjoyable pleasure to experience the extraordinary talent on stage, expertly underscored by the small band that accompanied her.
The single fault in this production, in fact not a fault in the production at all, is that there was no program – nothing to take home and pour over, show my friends and essentially draw out the experience as long as possible. I would also have liked to know who to credit in the production team for a sound and lighting design that complimented the perfection of the performance absolutely. There is a fine art in doing these jobs well enough that they are never noticed, and I give particular mention to the sound operator who kept up with Bernadette’s intertwined spoken script and soaring song with superb subtlety and obvious (to those who might be looking for it) skill.
It was, on the whole, a simple production: a black set on a black stage with a single black chair, a small band behind a black scrim, and a single actor also dressed in black who filled the show with the light and colour of so many wonderful characters. A truly stunning performance, thoroughly deserving of the instant and unanimous standing ovation it received.
Every singer should see this show to experience both the talent of Bernadette Robinson, and to embrace this opportunity to hear five iconic singers deliver their most loved songs. Every actor should see this show to witness first-hand the dexterity of this most proficient actress and to appreciate the detail that goes into well-rounded characters. Every writer should see this show to learn from the combined natural rhythm and poetic prose of Joanna Murray-Smith. Quite simply, everyone should see this show, if for no other reason than to enjoy a rare and most wondrous night at the theatre.
Songs for Nobodies plays at the Powerhouse Theatre, Brisbane Powerhouse until Sunday 20 November.
Book online at www.brisbanepowerhouse.org or phone 3358 8600