July 16, 2018
Issue 7 2018
Theatre Review

Songs for Nobodies

On a blustery Wellington night, I attended the preview session of the Wellington leg of the Songs For Nobodies tour at the Circa Theatre, starring Ali Harper and written by Joanna Murray-Smith.

The production could be described as a remarkable 90 minute one-woman play with music. It focuses on the slices of life of five women, self-prescribed ‘nobodies’ with small lives, contrasted by their experiences glimpsing stardom through chance meetings with famous women. The play is written by, performed by and about women, which made it a powerful watch. Ali Harper is magnificent on the stage, bringing the ten characters to life beautifully through a range of accents, from New York to English to French, and strong acting abilities.

Five historically famous women are spotlighted in the five segments of the nobodies’ lives; Judy Garland, Patsy Cline, Edith Piaf, Billie Holiday and Maria Callas. They are met through chance encounters - a quick toilet stop at a hotel where one of the women worked as an example. It is curious that I only remember the famous peoples’ names from the five stories, even though they were only secondary characters to those of us with ordinary lives in this show. This demonstrated to me the power of celebrity and stardom, drowning out the noise of the everyday person.

Ali Harper is a well-known talented performer with a long catalogue of performance history, and shows a demonstrably powerful command of theatre both in acting and voice. She morphed into the different characters, becoming their stories on stage in front of you even though she was dressed all in black. Notable were her transformations into the five stars. Even though she doesn’t look like them, her mannerisms and voice acting were spot on. Especially for Judy Garland and Billie Holiday, the most well-known to me. She also managed to break into French language singing as Edith Piaf, going between an English accent and French with ease.

I was lucky enough to be able to greet Ali after the show in Circa Theatre’s cosy foyer. All of the audience members, of which I was the youngest, were scrambling to meet her, so I only had a few seconds to shake her hand, say hi and tell her how much I enjoyed the performance. She seemed warm and welcoming, and it was lovely to be able to meet the woman from the stage after the show.

The music within the show was also exquisite. It was played by a three-piece jazz band behind a scrim curtain that was lit up when the music began and opaque when there was no music. This gave the illusion of silence and intimacy with the ‘nobody’ characters, and grandeur when the famous people take centre stage. It was a great jazz trio of piano, double bass and drums that was completely complementary to the show.

Overall, Songs For Nobodies is a dramatic masterpiece that shows off the extent of theatre veteran Ali Harper’s talents. The show is on until August 4 at the Circa Theatre. I would recommend it to those with a love of live acting and immersive character stories, this one’s for you.