Pros: Great venue, great performer, great songs.
Cons: Slightly too long.
If you’ve yet to check it out, Wilton’s Music Hall is so worth a visit: a mid-19th Century grand music hall attached to an 18th-century terrace of three houses and a pub. It’s a beautiful venue, and the majestic performance space is perfectly suited to Songs For Nobodies. Undoubtedly an old world music hall for old world music artists.
Songs For Nobodies is a one woman show depicting five imaginary encounters between ordinary American, English and Irish women – the Nobodies, I presume – and five legendary singers of the past: Judy Garland, Patsy Cline, Edith Piaf, Billie Holiday and Maria Callas.
The skill required to hold a stage single-handedly is a joy to behold when it is done well, and Bernadette Robinson is one of those performers who makes it look effortless. An Australian singer and performer, she has been performing her impressions of Garland, Cline et al since 1991. Consequently, they are just a tad remarkable. Whether as one of the Nobodies or one of the divas, Robinson had the audience hooked. Robinson uses her voice and immense presence to captivate the crowd, looking as comfortable conducting her business onstage as a woman moving around her own living room.
The set below the Hall’s enormous proscenium arch was minimal, housing only a few bits of furniture; a chair, a table, a dresser full of cups and glasses. Robinson more than filled the space so there really was no need for a busy set. She was always busy in a myriad of subtle ways: smoking, making tea, tidying up. There were no costume changes, only accent indicated changes of character, with Robinson playing ten women over the course of ninety minutes. The transition between each woman was completely clear despite only slight alterations in behaviour: smoking, making tea, knocking back a drink.
The monologues flow completely naturally, and the writing is microscopically accurate, with the vernacular of the Nobodies subtly altering depending on location. The only fault in the show was during the last section of the monologues between Irish country lass Orla McDonagh and Maria Callas. Robinson’s Irish accent needed more work, and for me, the momentum sagged during this section. Perhaps it was one artist too many, or the faux Irish jarred me out of the piece so I became aware of time moving again. But these are small points. It is clear how much hard work, time and effort has gone into this show, and goes into every live performance.
I don’t know much about the lives of the singers Robinson portrays, but you don’t need to. The pleasure is in the interactions between the women, Robinson’s wonderful deliveries, and of course, the songs so skilfully sung. There’s something incredibly moving about beautiful, dead divas conjured onstage to sing once more. I’m sure most people have an artist they wish they could have seen; shows like this brings these five pretty close. As Orson Welles said: “Cry the dead artists out of the living past. Our songs will all be silenced, but what of it? Go on singing.”
Director: Simon Phillips
Performer: Bernadette Robinson
Producer: Gar McQuinn for RGM Productions and Daniel Sparrow Productions
Writer: Joanna Murray-Smith
UK Musical Supervisor and Director: Greg Arrowsmith
Booking Until: 3 June 2018
Box Office: 020 7702 2789
Booking Link: https://www.wiltons.org.uk/whatson/400-songs-for-nobodies