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Review: Songs for Nobodies at Sydney Opera House

Review By Naomi Hamer

When I found out I was reviewing Songs for Nobodies at the Sydney Opera House, I knew I was in for a good time without needing to know anything else. I knew the play was a one woman show and I had heard that Bernadette Robinson had just come from a sold out season on London’s West End but what I didn’t realise was that this role was originally written for her. And written for her it was!

We open with the stage set simply with one spotlight on a chair in the middle of the stage as we take our seats. Beginning with a voice appearing from the dark before a spotlight begins on Robinson’s face, slowly opening up so that eventually we can see the whole performer, dressed in a black peplum jacket, buttoned all the way up and a simple black business dress. Her costume transforming throughout the evening with the removal or change of her jacket. A bookcase and bar to the back of stage right and a couple of choice pieces of furniture throughout so that the stage can transform seamlessly from scene to scene, leaving the focus squarely on Robinson. Performed in what appears to be black and white throughout the whole performance, from costuming to lighting, it is Robinson’s range as a performer - both in vocals and her acting ability that propels the show into technicolour. The live band, scoring the performance impeccably, supporting Robinson’s soaring vocals and soundtracking her monologue. All in all Bernadette Robinson more than steals the show. She is simply captivating.

Over the space of ninety minutes, Robinson takes us on a tour de force, slipping from character to character and from accent to accent with an ease and grace that you almost have to see to believe. Originally premiering at Melbourne Theatre Company in 2010 and written by Joanna Murray Smith, Songs for Nobodies sees five ordinary women in imagined encounters with five celebrated female singers whose music has touched their lives in remarkable ways including Judy Garland, Patsy Cline, Billie Holiday, Edith Piaf and Maria Callas - And including songs such as Billie Holiday’s Strange Fruit and Edith Piaf’s Non, je ne Regrette Rien. From the operatic highs of Maria Callas’ soprano to Patsy Cline’s country twang, Robinson does not disappoint with her impressions of some of the twentieth century’s biggest female performers. They are second to none. But the power and magic they bring to the five fictional women Robinson plays alongside them propel the performance forward - it is their stories bring meaning to the stars onstage presence. And under the direction of Simon Phillips, who also directed the original production, we relive these significant moments in the lives of the fictional women. From Edie Delamotte, an English librarian and expert on the dewey decimal system whose father was snuck out of a Nazi concentration camp by Edith Piaf and her band to Too Junior Jones, a journalist who was given her big break by interviewing Billie Holiday.

Songs for Nobodies is an uplifting revival that looks at the musicians and the music that underscore our lives and make us feel seen. As a one woman show, can I say that Bernadette Robinson is the highlight? Anyway, I have and ten years after it’s first foray, the performance is still seeing standing ovations and with a performer as talented as Bernadette Robinson, she deserves every one of them. You will not be disappointed.

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All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.


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