The genesis of the project was director Simon Phillip’s admiration for the vocal dexterity of singer Bernadette Robinson. Unable to find a conventional vehicle for her unique talents he commissioned Joanna Murray-Smith to create a piece specifically tailored to the performer’s ability to imitate legendary singers.
Aware of the pitfalls of many tribute shows, which have a reputation for being tacky and unsatisfying, they set out create a coherent dramatic structure in which the impersonations sit. Murray-Smith’s neat idea is to show how extraordinary female singers might impact on ordinary women’s lives.
On a rather chic, minimal set populated by elegant black furniture, swathed in a black gauze which allows us a glimpse of the band, Bernadette Robinson plays a restroom attendant who meets Judy Garland, an usherette who gets to sing backing for Patsy Cline, a librarian who’s father was saved from a concentration camp by Edith Piaf, a journalist who interviews Billie Holiday and an Irish nanny who’s propositioned by Maria Callas’s lover and hears a the diva sing.
Robinson has the ease of delivery one associates with performer who’s been excelling in the same piece for a while, nearly ten years, so that it fits like a love. Her switch between these very different women with their very different vocal qualities and physicality feels so effortless that you can sit back and luxuriate in this class act, and the classic songs associated with each artist, impeccably performed.
The Callas impersonation is a particularly pleasant surprise and it’s amazing to remember that only 20 minutes ago the same singer was equally convincing as Holliday or Cline, women with such different performing styles.
Songs for Nobodies is only 90 minutes long (no interval). Combine it with dinner at a good West End restaurant and you’ll have a very classy evening indeed.