Sunshine Coast based performer, Candice Hill, returns home from a guest appearance in the ABC’s Harrow to star as Too Junior Jones / Billy Holiday in Joanna Murray-Smith’s Songs For Nobodies for Red Umbrella Theatre Co-Operative during Anywhere Theatre Festival. Hill performs a series of songs within an extended monologue, sharing the story of an imagined meeting between Billy Holiday and the ambitious journalist, Too Junior Jones, a “nobody”. This captivating performance, along with those by Claire Harding (competing with Majestic Cinema foyer noise to riff on Patsy Cline’s last public appearance and singing sensationally, not unlike the woman herself) and Sharon Grimley (sharing a poignant tale about Edith Piaf and singing fragments of her most famous songs, bringing tears to the eyes of some, sitting huddled together in a tiny op shop) make this 3-hour promenade production entirely worth braving the cold for.
The production takes us on Nambour’s Vintage Theatre Trail, starting at Switch Cafe in C-Square, which is an over-crowded kitsch venue, in which sight lines are hit and miss, and acoustics are a little challenged towards the back/bar area. Having pre-ordered a light meal via email before arriving at the venue, we ate prior to the first monologue, delivered by Director, Lyn Johnson (Beatrice Ethel Appleton / Judy Garland). Those pressed for time would probably appreciate a no-dinner option, and be advised to turn up at 6pm for the start of the show.
A far cry from Bernadette Robinson’s award-winning touring production, in which she nailed all five roles, this version, featuring its five different women, is bookended by footage of the real-life performers rather than our local performers successfully singing the songs of the stars. Johnson’s monologue ends perfunctorily before black and white footage of Garland appears on a screen behind her, and Rebekah Ferguson (Orla McDonagh / Maria Callas) delivers beautifully, the final bold monologue (she has a knack for cheeky comedy), and even sings a bit before we hear Maria Callas herself, and look up to see the original performance of the aria in black and white on a wall in the final venue, an empty space located upstairs in C-Square. The use of this space confounds me; it’s almost cavernous, but oddly shaped and we are all – including the actress and her set pieces – cramped in the front quarter inside the doors and a strange, featured, cabin-esque entrance. I guess it must have looked vaguely like the cruise ship she speaks of. Anyway, I feel that to cast the five different women is wonderful, but to have only three of the five able to sing the songs convincingly could be considered a misstep, unless you’ve never seen or heard Robinson’s performance, or heard of her at all.
Despite these quibbles and the 3.5 hours duration (wear layers – it’s cold out!), Songs For Nobodies is still brilliant material, and Red Umbrella’s decision to offer the profits from their sold-out season to support services for victims of sexual violence has prompted Murray-Smith to waive her performance fees, making this show not only a brave choice, but also a successful fundraiser.
Songs For Nobodies was experienced on Sunday May 13.
Dates: May 13 & 19
Where: C-Square, Howard Street, Nambour
Reviewed by Xanthe Coward