Five all-time musical greats... for the price of one
Bernadette Robinson slips in and out of several different accents over the course of her interview with Time Out: a Tennessee drone, a New York drawl, exceedingly proper ladies’ English…
It’s hardly surprising. In Songs for Nobodies, Robinson plays five everyday women: Beatrice Ethel Appleton, Pearl Avalon, Edie Delamotte, Too Junior Jones and Orla McDonagh – and the five extraordinary musical women they encounter: Judy Garland, Patsy Cline, Maria Callas, Billie Holiday and Edith Piaf.
The show is a mixture of monologues and music, directed by Simon Phillips with text supplied by playwright Joanna Murray-Smith. “She didn’t want to write a tribute show,” says Robinson. “And nor did I. I wanted to be stretched and challenged with the acting. So they’re beautiful monologues in their own right really. There’s joy and there’s sweetness and they’re very funny.”
Robinson admits to “enormous trepidation” over playing a small army of strong female characters onstage – but she is relishing the opportunity to show off what she can do. “It’s fantastic,” Robinson says. “It’s completely showing off. The whole thing is about that. But I’m just so proud of everything about it.”
Bernadette Robinson on the Nobodies...
Judy Garland / Beatrice Ethel Appleton
“Little Bea is a ladies room’s attendant at the Plaza Athenee in New York. Her husband has left her and Judy Garland’s 1961 Carnegie Hall concert has just happened. Judy Garland walks into the toilets while Bea’s in there, suffering and teary about her husband. They have a moment together. It’s really about Bea Appleton and how her life came to this. She’s a beautiful character.”
Maria Callas / Orla McDonagh
“Orla is a children’s nanny – a young Irish innocent. She’s on Aristotle Onassis’s yacht when Onassis and Maria Callas have an affair. She’s a witness to it all. She and Onassis almost have an affair at the end.”
Billie Holiday / Too Junior Jones
“Too Junior Jones is a journalist from the New York Times. It’s about how she got her big break with Billie Holiday.”
Patsy Cline / Pearl Avalon
“Pearl Avalon is a backing singer. When she first met Patsy she was an usher. Pearl goes into Patsy’s dressing room by mistake and tells her that she’s a singer. That night, Patsy calls Pearl up to sing on stage with her as a backing vocalist. And that’s the night that Patsy flies home in a plane…”
Edith Piaf / Edie Delamotte
“Edie is an English librarian, whose father was a Frenchman rescued from the prison camps by Edith Piaf. Edith’s phrases come in and out of the monologue. That’s a really exciting one – you’ve got this rather droll librarian but then it gets into this amazing rescue. And Piaf’s music is very powerful.”
Songs for Nobodies, The Playhouse, Sydney Opera House, 7 Feb-4 Mar 2012.