Cabaret Festival

Songs for Nobodies – 2012 Adelaide Cabaret Festival

Presented by 2012 Adelaide Cabaret Festival
Reviewed Sunday 10th June 2012

This is an astounding piece of musical theatre, even if not actually being a cabaret performance. We meet five ordinary women, the ‘nobodies’, each of who has had some contact with, and/or have been influenced by a great vocalist. Directed by Simon Philips, from Joanna Murray Smith’s script, Bernadette Robinson plays all five women, as well as the five divas. Robinson, though, not only plays all ten characters, with a big range of accents, every one convincing and consistent, she then goes on to not simply impersonate the five great singers, but embodies them completely. One might even say channelling them.

We meet Beatrice Ethel Appleton, a ladies’ toilet attendant in the Plaza Athenee in New York. She is miserable as her husband has left. Meanwhile, Judy Garland has just finished her 1961 Carnegie Hall concert and drops in to the convenience, taking time to talk to Bea as she sews up the hem of Judy’s dress, that she noticed had come undone.

Pearl Avalon is an usher and finds herself in Patsy Cline’s dressing room. She says that she is a singer and Cline later calls her on stage to sing backing vocals, starting Pearl’s career as a backing singer. Patsy wants to get home to her family as quickly as she can and boards a plane after the performance, never arriving at her destination.

‘Too Junior’ Jones is a fashion writer for the New York Times, frustrated at being stuck in this dead end job because she is always seen as too young for other things, and looking for a break into ‘real’ reporting. She gets the job of interviewing Billie Holiday, and that encounter changes her life.

Prim and proper English librarian, Edie Delamonte, had a French father who was imprisoned during the war. Edith Piaf came to sing at the concentration camp and helped him to escape disguised as one of her musicians.

Young Orla McDonagh is hired as a nanny on the yacht of Aristotle Onassis. When Onassis tries to make her another of his conquests, it is hearing the distant voice of his current lover, Maria Callas, that calls her back to earth before it is too late.

The five women who tell their stories require Robinson to provide three different American accents, one from County Wicklow in Ireland, and one well spoken English accent. That, of course, is on top of portraying the five different women, of varying ages. She does this with complete success, even making it look easy. At the same time, in each vignette she switches to and fro between the character telling the story and the singer about whom they are talking. Not only does she sound exactly like each of the five singers as they talk and sing, but she even seems to change her appearance to embody them. You would almost swear that they were actually there on stage.

This is a world class performance with world-wide, universal appeal. If Bernadette Robinson does not get to tour the globe with this production, then there is something very wrong, somewhere. Sorry if you didn’t get a ticket before it sold out. You missed a truly phenomenal performance.

Reviewed by Barry Lenny, Arts Editor, Glam Adelaide.

Cabaret Festival: Songs for Nobodies

Venue: Her Majesty’s Theatre, Grote Street, Adelaide
Season: to 10th June, 2012
Duration: 1hr 30mins

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