“Why are there so many people here?”, one of my friends asked. “It’s simple”, I said, “Summer has finally arrived in Sydney”. We were desperately looking for a table at Opera Bar at the Sydney Opera House, where we had tickets to see Bernadette Robinson.
Our table of four was lucky enough to score a table early enough so we could enjoy a bottle of wine and some nibbles. You’ve got to have a seating strategy at Opera Bar on Thursday nights, I’ve concluded, especially when the weather is so completely spectacular. Blue skies. A warm night. A cruise ship. The Bridge. The Opera House. It doesn’t get much better.
Well not until you go inside The Playhouse when Bernadette Robinson is performing her show, “Songs For Nobodies”.
Bernadette is a wonderful singer and actor, and a very talented mimic with a wonderful ability to create the voices of some of the greatest female singers of the last century: Edith Piaf, Maria Callas, Judy Garland, Billie Holliday and Patsy Cline.
But this show was more than just mimicry and show tunes. It wasn’t a paint-by-numbers musical. No, it’s a show based around the idea that all of these artists have fans, people who have met them and who have been touched by them. So you have the character talking about their life, and how and why they connect to all of these wonderful, yet often tragic performers.
In the case of Edith Piaf, there’s the character of a woman from English and French origins who is living a fairly ordinary life as a librarian in the English countryside. Each year on her birthday, she travels to Paris to visit the Edith Piaf Museum. Her reason? She says it’s because her French father met Piaf years ago during the Second World War and was helped to escape.
Another character who I loved was an Irish nanny who recounts a story of being on board a yacht owned by Aristotle Onassis, and who is attempted to be seduced by Onassis, and whose life would have improved dramatically, until she hears the voice of Maria Callas, and realises she could never compete.
My favourite character was that of a fairly ordinary journalist who secures an interview with blues legend Billie Holliday, and whose life and career changes for the better afterwards. Meanwhile, Billie Holliday battles the booze and heroin. The journalist is honest enough to recognise the exploitation she may also have committed.
All of the characters were, in my view, well formed. They had depth. They touched my soul with their sometimes distressing honesty.
Bernadette goes from character to character and barely raises a sweat. We knew because we were in the second row.
She’s an amazing actor and singer, and the standing ovation, which I reckon happens every night, was well deserved.
What a beautiful night.