Skip to main content
Photo by James Morgan

Songs for Nobodies

Duet Productions in association with the Sydney Opera House present SONGS FOR NOBODIES, by Joanna Murray-Smith, In the Playhouse, at the Sydney Opera House. 23rd January - 9th February.

SONGS FOR NOBODIES is a work written by Joanna Murray-Smith. This performance is a revival production, it having been seen first some 10 years ago.

Five nobodies tell us of their individual brush with fame, interactions with five extraordinary divas: Judy Garland, Patsy Cline, Billie Holiday, Edith Piaf and Maria Callas.

All ten figures appearing in this 90-minute show are inhabited by Bernadette Robinson, she dressed in a simple black skirt and tailored black jacket of an indeterminate period fashion with a coiffured hairstyle that, similarly, is of an undefined time, that together radiate a visual cohesion to the setting, whilst moving with subtle vocal dialects from one character to another, in different places and time zones, telling their stories comfortably on a circular raised platform surrounded by black pieces of furniture that permits the making and drinking of tea and or alcohol in a casual naturalistic manner – it radiates an all confident mood of relaxed environment. Safe and secure.

Each anecdotal interlude – curiosity – leads us to a musical performance from each of the stars, impersonated by Ms Robinson with extraordinary physical studies of the iconic gestures and adjustments to the vocal characteristics of each of the singers and the stylistic demands of the particular music genre of the divas we meet. We recognise  the stand and deliver dramatics of Judy Garland, the honeyed country and western crooning of Patsy Cline, the pained vocal tones of an older and injured Billie Holiday, the gutsy broad planted challenge of defiance from Edith Piaf with her strident vocal personality, and the glory of the dramatic operatic soprano diva Maria Callas taking no prisoners in the giving of her vocal energies and acting gifts to her audience. Ms Robinson is impressive, supported wonderfully by a live band.

This experience of SONGS FOR NOBODIES in the Playhouse in 2020, was one to admire. Ten years ago the virtuosities of Ms Robinson may have inspired. But time has passed and the energy of this production, Directed by Simon Phillips, is now so comfortable that the daring and cutting edge bravura techniques, the ‘circus dangers’ of possible failure, engaged by Ms Robinson with the challenge she has taken on, no longer has the effect of wonder. Its dominating quality now delivers a safely expected ease and so has us, as an audience, to objectively admire the artist but are not necessarily placed in a vulnerable subjectively that gives us permission to be awed, to be inspired, by  what is been offered, happening. With this ‘trapeze’ artist and her act there was no moment when one felt she might fall, fail to pull off her ‘trick’.

There is, thankfully, an audience for this work still, and there were many admirers on the night I saw it. I was slightly distracted, observant, but no longer moved, either for Ms Murray-Smith’s five women or the five musical artists in the revelation of their vocal exposures, created by Ms Robinson.

For the admirers.