Bernadette Robinson’s critically acclaimed performances in multiple sell-out seasons of the one-woman musical play Songs For Nobodies and Pennsylvania Avenue have confirmed her standing as one of Australia’s leading singers/actresses. Together with eventual winner Cate Blanchett, Bernadette was nominated for a Helpmann Award (Australia’s Olivier Awards) in 2012 as Best Female Actor In a Play. Bernadette played the role of Beatrice in Nick Enright and Terry Clarke’s The Venetian Twins, and has appeared in lead roles with Chamber Made Opera and Wellington City Opera. She is a familiar figure on Australian concert stages, having given sell out concerts at the Sydney Opera House, Adelaide Festival Centre, the Melbourne Recital Centre and its neighbour, Hamer Hall, and the Queensland Performing Arts Centre.
We caught up with Bernadette ahead of the shows London run at Wilton’s Music Hall from 21 March – 7 April to find out more about the show…
This show was written specifically to showcase your unique talent. How did the concept of “Songs for Nobodies” come about?
Well, Joanna Murray Smith, the playwright, had the idea of weaving five monologues together, spoken by five different ‘nobodies’ whose lives are touched in some way by a great singer. I was quite specific about the singers I wanted to pay homage to. I chose five distinctive singers from five specific genres, each of them famous in their own way for the music and what they have come to represent in western culture.
Wilton’s Music Hall is the oldest of its kind in the world. How do you feel about performing in such an historic venue?
It’s so exciting and such an honour to be performing in a place with such history and which has hosted so many great performers.
You’re known for your masterful impressions of iconic female performers. Do you have a favourite? Oh god, that’s such a hard question because all of the singers are so different and mean very different things to me. They’re all so wonderful, but probably Maria Callas, because not only did she have such a great voice, she was a consummate musician and actor. There is film of her performing live as Tosca, and her performance when she’s not singing, when she spies the knife which she eventually plunges into the evil Scarpia, is riveting.
The show was hugely successful in its original production in Australia. Are you excited to bring it to a UK audience?
I’m so excited to bring it over here, and I so hope it’s received as well by London audiences as it was in Australia.
If you could have dinner with any of the iconic artists you impersonate, who would it be?
I’d probably like to have dinner with Edith Piaf, because she loved a good time, and I’d get to have French food and wine.
Do you have any tricks or rituals that help you get into each role?
Well, with the famous singers, I did a lot of research about their lives and the way they move and speak, in order to do them justice. And when I’m on stage I feel as if I’m observing the singers. The “nobodies” are people that the audience doesn’t know anything about, and joanna and I created them. Her text gives me so much to work with. I created the accents, and, for example, I asked joanna if one of them could be an English woman and then she suggested that one might be Irish: they became edie, the librarian who introduces us to Piaf, and Orla, the nanny whose life is touched by the mercurial Maria Callas. Then, before I go on stage, each night, I do a sound check with the band, and then I go into myself, and I pace around the dressing room and I recite the show to myself to prepare.
What do you hope audiences will take away from the show?
I want them to have been moved, and to perhaps have a deeper understanding of these incredible singers and their lives. But more than that, the play is about the nobodies, and I hope that the audience understands that everyone has a story, everybody is a somebody. And I also hope they tell their friends about it!
What should audiences expect when coming to see “Songs for Nobodies”?
They should expect fascinating and intimate stories from these women, these ‘nobodies’, tinged with moments of insight into extraordinary performers.
Thanks for having Tea With Wilma
Interview by Olivia Dowden