Divas (Sydney Opera House) – theatre review

Bernadette Robinson’s new theatrical offering, Divas is currently on at the Sydney Opera House. In her own words, she has chosen “10 extraordinary singers from incredibly different styles… I just made it as diverse as I could.” In her one-woman show with a three-piece backing band, Robinson unleashes all her singing, acting and comedic talents to produce entertainment with a Capital E!

Sit back and relax – this is a journey through the lives and songs of ten female superstars. Robinson’s list of Divas is not an official ‘top ten’. She has chosen women who have influenced and perhaps moulded her own style and artistry. In a ninety-minute show, Robinson introduces us to the characters and songs of Kate Bush, Shirley Bassey, Karen Carpenter, Edith Piaf, Dolly Parton, Miley Cyrus, Barbra Streisand, Maria Callas, Amy Winehouse and Judy Garland.

Featured songs include Wuthering Heights, Diamonds Are Forever, Only Just Begun, Non Je Ne Regrette Rien, Joelene, Wrecking Ball, The Way We Were, Cadenza, Rehab and Over The Rainbow. There are 28 memorable songs in total.

In association with Director and Co-Creator Simon Phillips, Robinson slips into each Diva-character seamlessly. She adopts their accents, posture and stage presence, explaining ‘in their own words’ uplifting and tragic parts of their careers and loves. Such as Shirley Bassey’s manager describing her as a “voice like a diamond; a rough diamond,” Karen Carpenter’s poignant lament about dieting, and Barbra Streisand’s surprising confession of teaching her mother to smoke when she was only ten years old.

She performs two or three songs from each Diva simply and with dignity – a real tribute to the joy they brought to millions. Robinson’s vocal prowess is nothing short of a treat for the senses. Her impressions are authentic yet never cross into mere impersonations, allowing her to retain full command of the performance. Whether its Dolly Parton’s Tennessee drawl, Edith Piaf’s smooth French or Amy Winehouse’s cockney accent, Robinson’s characterisations are a true testament to her versatility.

Divas forgoes flamboyant theatrics and flashy props, opting instead for a refreshing and thoughtful presentation that lets the music and storytelling take centre stage. Each Diva flows cleverly to the next; each equal in stature and influence. Sporting a simple black outfit that doesn’t distract from her captivating performance, Bernadette Robinson shines brightly under the spotlight. A huge modern-art panel overhangs the stage with images of the Divas. Each one respectfully lights up as their time ‘in the limelight’ comes and goes.

The onstage band, composed of Mark Jones, Jonathon Skovron and Graham Hunt, provided the perfect accompaniment to Robinson’s journey through the various musical genres, from eclectic to soul, popular to opera, classical to country.

Divas offers a nostalgic walk down memory lane with songs we know or know of, but now yearn for. The show is a smorgasbord of talent and tune, leaving the audience in awe of the powerful influence of these divas.

Divas is at the Sydney Opera House until 20 August 2023

Paul Kiely
For more of Paul Kiely’s writings on theatre, check out Absolute Theatre

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