It is rare for the West End stage to host such a distinguished line-up of stars as those appearing in Joanna Murray-Smith's 90-minute play Songs for Nobodies (Ambassadors Theatre), in which singer and impressionist Bernadette Robinson brings to life some of the most iconic twentieth-century singers, namely Judy Garland, Patsy Cline, Edith Piaf, Billie Holiday and Maria Callas in a series of imagined encounters, directed by Simon Phillips.
In Murray-Smith's monologues five apparently unremarkable women–the nobodies of the title–relate their brushes with these musical celebrities. Robinson effortlessly transforms herself into these characters, ranging from a broken-hearted lavatory attendant, who randomly meets Garland in a hotel bathroom, to a librarian, whose father was freed from a German prison camp by Piaf.
Whilst there is a vague idea of story around the music–there is little in the way of narrative and the episodic nature of the show, and in some cases rather over-extended monologues, made me wish for more music and less talk. It is also something of a shame that the 'nobodies' never really are front-and-centre but rather a vehicle by which to welcome the big names to the production.
But the piece is really all about the big numbers and while Bernadette Robinson is the undisputed star of this one-woman show, she gives the impression that the bill is full of a wide variety of stars. First she captures the yearning voice of Judy Garland, before revelling in Patsy Cline's truthful candour, and then evoking the smoky blues of Billie Holiday. Robinson shows herself to be equally adept stepping into the shoes of all these famous women, seamlessly switching vocals and characters with great versatility.
The real tour-de-force, however, comes with her performance as the late Edith Piaf. The songs – L'Accordeoniste and the unforgettable Non, Je ne Regrette Rien – are delivered with a passion and emotion that few can equal and for a brief moment one may be forgiven for thinking we are sitting in the back of a smoky Left Bank Paris bar listening to the Little Sparrow herself.
In short, then, a glorious homage to many of the great voices that are no longer with us.
Songs for Nobodies
Runs until Saturday 23 February 2019 at Ambassadors Theatre.
Box office: 020 7395 5405
Photo: ©Nick BritainLast modified: April 6, 2021