This ninety-minute show has more than an echo of The Rise and Fall of Little Voice, but is more of a one-woman showcase, as Bernadette Robinson performs as ten distinct characters during the show she has already wowed audiences with at Wilton’s Music Hall last spring.
Written by Joanna Murray-Smith especially for Robinson, and directed by Simon Phillips, this musical play lets us into five vignettes where the nobody meets the star, or has a story about them: Judy Garland, Patsy Cline (on the night her plane came down), Edith Piaf, Billie Holiday, Maria Callas.
With only subtle changes of lighting and minimal props, Robinson not only conjures up the voices of these dead legends, but the women who are touched by them: Bea Appleton, whose marriage is crumbling and has a meeting with Garland in the ladies’ loo; Pearl Avalon, who is encouraged by Cline to become a backing singer in the shadows; Edie Delamotte, librarian, whose father was helped out of a concentration camp by Piaf; Too Junior Jones, rookie reporter, whose chat with Holiday gives her a big break; and Orla McDonagh, Irish nanny to the Onassis family on the cruise where he romanced Callas.
It’s possible that utilising Holiday as one of the stars imitated might cause a problem, but the voice is so on point the fact the imitator is a white woman doesn’t matter. And the imperceptible changes in manner, poise, and voice liberate all the women from the silences in which they linger.
Songs for Nobodies may not have an enduring storyline, and is a much smaller show than many of the big budget musicals currently populating the West End, but it is only a limited run, to 23 February 2019, and availability is reasonable throughout.
If you are a fan of any of these immortal singers (and I love all of them) then you will want to see this. You may need to know a bit of background, but even if you don’t, the situations depicted fill in some of the gaps. And Robinson is worth the ticket price alone: she’s incredible.