Judy Garland, Patsy Cline, Edith Piaf, Billie Holiday and Maria Callas. How could it be possible that one woman may play all of these iconic figures, and play them well, in just 90 minutes? Yet, Bernadette Robinson seems to have managed it in Songs For Nobodies. Remarkably, Robinson actually morphs into a total of 11 different people, as she spends the evening taking us across the globe, from Texas to the ever-glamorous Nottingham. We’re led through stories of interactions with five iconic female musicians. Robinson, through story and song, shows us how they touched the lives of the ‘nobodies’, the bathroom attendants, ushers, journalists and nannies that they met briefly. Joanna Murray-Smith’s gorgeous writing is only elevated by Robinson’s seemingly endless talent.
Beginning as Beatrice Ethel Appleton, a bathroom attendant who just so happens to be on hand to fix a snag in the hem of Judy Garland’s gown, the tone is set for the structure of the evening. Every star is presented by a ‘nobody’, who tells us a tale of their encounter with said star, before we’re treated to a tune of theirs, or two. Murray-Smith’s stories have such an air of authenticity about them that it’s impossible not to fall in love with both the women in each of them. There is a sense of sisterhood in most of them, a warmth and solidarity that is pure and enjoyable. She’s captured the quiet moments between two strangers who lead completely different lives, but have somehow found common ground. They make an unexpected connection, and it’s beautiful to watch.
The only exception being Edie Delamotte, the librarian from the East of England, whose father was smuggled out of a concentration camp by Piaf and her band. What before had been light-hearted tales of relationship advice and career-related encouragements, suddenly becomes a matter of life and death. We’re brought straight to the pinnacle of human connection; empathy, and shown how it can change and save lives.
Robinson is, of course, incredible. She whips between deep Southern drawl, to genteel English, to perky Irish, effortlessly. She belts out classics like Cline’s Crazy, Holiday’s Strange Fruit and Piaf’s, Non, Je ne Regrette Rien like it’s nothing, and all in tones remarkably similar to their originals. Watching her retell Murray-Smith’s lovely stories as various excited characters is completely joyful. Peppered with humour and acute philosophical musings, Songs For Nobodies is a triumph.
Songs For Nobodies is playing until 23 February 2019. For more information and tickets, see the Ambassadors Theatre website.