Songs for Nobodies

Songs for NobodiesLeft – Bernadette Robinson. Photo – Jeff Busby

The audience fell silent before a voice in a grainy speaker could even request it. I’m sure every single member of the audience had heard that this musical already received rave reviews; it was a silence that spoke volumes.

The lights fell and we waited in the dark, until one light shone on one woman, Bernadette Robinson. She stared out into the audience, one woman under one blistering spotlight, a simple backdrop, and just one stool.

A voice crept out of Robinson as the sweet heartbroken bathroom attendant; the nobody describing the story of when she met Judie Garland.

The performance saw Robinson play the everyday character, the bathroom attendant, the backing singer, the lonely daughter, the journalist and finally the nanny. Each character describes of how the somebody, the artist, Judie Garland, Patsy Cline, Edith Piaf, Billie Holiday and Maria Callas impacted their seemingly small mundane lives. As the everyday character delves into storytelling they’re joined by their idol, mainly in song, sometimes in dialogue between the two characters.

Before I continue I need to make clear that all ten characters were played by just one woman, Bernadette Robinson, who after this performance will always remain, has to remain a somebody.

As fast as I can flick a light switch on and off Robinson transforms from a stuffy but comical English Librarian to Edith Piaf, almost as if she’s possessed by the legend. Edie, our stuffy Librarian talks of how her own existence depended on the ‘little sparrow’ herself after rescuing Edie’s Father from a concentration camp.

Each story, the bathroom attendant and Judie Garland, the backing singer and Patsy Cline, the librarian and Edith Piaf, the journalist and Billie Holiday, the nanny and Maria Callas expose the audience to raw emotion experienced in everyday life. The motto of the show is we’re all one, legend or nobody, we all struggle through reality sometimes, idol or attendant, it’s the human condition.

This whirlwind of common humanity decorated by song and wonderful dialogue belongs to the writer Joanna Murray-Smith.

Murray-Smith has had huge success with a number of plays, novels and other. Songs for Nobodies was apparently inspired and written for the leading lady herself, Bernadette Robinson.

The fact that Robinson is something of a muse to Murray-Smith comes as no surprise, who couldn’t be inspired by the talent she inhabits. Robinson has the ability to make you feel as if you’re the only person sitting in the audience, as if you’re forming some sort of bond with all ten characters and it’s a private, intimate relationship between the eleven of you.

I found myself so engrossed at times, maybe even a little too engrossed that I couldn’t keep hold on physically letting emotion slip out into the auditorium. At one point I heard myself laugh a little too loudly, another point I realised I had shoved my tongue into the pouch of my upper lip, that thing you do when you try not to cry but instead you look like a character from Planet of the Apes. My point with embarrassing myself is that Robinson can actually provoke this as a performer. I don’t know if I can remember the last time I experienced this in theatre.

Robinson’s performance triggered a Mexican wave of audience members rising to their feet as she took her bow. As I stood I felt that her performance was worthy of more than the gesture but couldn’t think of anything that wouldn’t have been classed as insane hero-worship. She’s a great to look to today, rather than idolising the past. She was worth every whoop, a breathtaking musical theatre performer.

by Joanna Murray–Smith

Director Simon Phillips

Venue: The Playhouse, Sydney Opera House
Dates: August 4 – 14, 2011
Tickets: from $79.00
Bookings: Sydney Opera House 02 9250 7777 | Ticketek 132 849

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