One woman becomes ten
By Owen James
Bernadette Robinson is a star, and Songs For Nobodies is the perfect vehicle for her endless talent to be showcased in. Originally commissioned and directed by Simon Phillips ten years ago, this one-woman masterpiece allows Robinson to become Judy Garland, Patsy Cline, Billie Holiday, Edith Piaf and Maria Callas in succession, alongside five women who meet these stars in unlikely and often amusingly implausible situations.
She has the audience in the palm of her hand from the very beginning, and we are enthralled with every breath and spellbinding note. Robinson effortlessly switches between her impressive array of accents, dialects and musical styles as she crosses continents and classes, each new voice painting a portrait of a lost artist we feel could be genuinely standing before us. (And it’s the closest we’ll get!) Robinson performs from the heart, her loving recreations mesmerising and enchanting for their truthful purity. We are left astonished with delicate transitions between soprano torch songs, country classics, and smoky blues standards.
The whole experience is very calming and peaceful, a combination of the warm wave of nostalgia intrinsic to the material, and the feeling that we are always safe in Robinson’s expert hands. Sound and lighting designers have embraced this tranquillity, and enhanced every moment with simple but very effective use of soundscapes and flawless lighting states.
The text is written by acclaimed playwright Joanna Murray-Smith, and is imbued with research and passion at every turn. Clear and polished pictures are painted of both the famous artists and the ordinary women recounting their encounters in every monologue, and every carefully selected song is masterfully integrated with the text, creating a tonally consistent flow throughout the entire ninety minute runtime. The show is undoubtedly curated for an audience acquainted with the references, but will still be enjoyed by anyone unfamiliar with these famous artists, thanks to Murray-Smith’s witty and timeless writing.
It is difficult to imagine an artist more suited to their art than Bernadette Robinson in Songs For Nobodies. She is deserving of every piece of praise and acclaim that has come her way throughout the ten-year international performance history of this show – which includes a noteworthy nomination for an Olivier Award during its West End run. Living in the intimate Fairfax Studio at Arts Centre Melbourne until January 5th, this outing makes for the perfect pre-Christmas treat or post-Christmas wind-down. Not to be missed.
Photography courtesy of The Arts Centre Melbourne