The Show Goes On – Bernadette Robinson and her connection to the sublime. (Theatre Review)

The Show Goes On

The Sydney Opera House

August 25 to September 10

You can grab your tickets here. 

Often, when we go to theatre, what we deem to be ‘quality’ settles upon us in the very first few moments of a show. We move toward a show, hopefully devoid of prejudices (or otherwise what is the point of going) and we wait to give the show a chance to inform us of what is going to happen. However, there is a phenomenon that occurs for each of us, when a show’s value can be determined within the first few minutes and its ensuing efforts rarely belie this intuition. We may change our ideas of the sublime in response to endorsement or irritation by friends and colleagues, or seek to piggy back off the rather meaningless critique of a “reviewer” but in the end, we can’t shake that feeling imposed upon our person in the first few minutes of a show. It is almost as if the true theater establishes itself visibly in the first moments of performance and its absence attests just as quickly that we are in the presence of some tired adherence to a run-of-the-mill classic (copying a dead tradition) or simply a pretentious failure. This phenomenon becomes a powerful force in the presence of Bernadette Robinson, for within the first few seconds of her show, one has an overwhelming sense that something important is happening, but that its ephemera eludes us.

I am not the type to have my head turned by mimicry or the tribute show. I have no fear of the new, and am uncomfortable with nostalgia, so the usual descriptors For Bernadette Robinson’s show can feel inadequate. A word used to describe her talents is ‘embodiment’ however, this doesn’t quite cut it either. Acting is a thought that can be described as material, a thought that revealed in the link between voice and body. When Bernadette Robinson brings Judy Garland into the room, it is not Judy Garland I see, but a summation of my experience of her. This performance is especially packaged for the audience. It addresses who these women are for me in my life, the delusion associated with their real. Why are there no Judy Garland’s today? Is her absence due to a demystification of the ‘Diva’ persona? Is this not a legacy of the modern age, that there are no more ‘famous’ people because we are all ‘famous?’ Herein lies the irony of The show Goes On. Here the actor is conditional. She addresses me to show me what the persona she represents could do, much more than what she did. I go to The show goes On to see Bernadette Robinson being my Judy Garland, not Judy Garland herself.

When I go to a show, it is largely to engage in my own subjectivity. That is, I go to experience a recognition of the irresistible force of hidden traces of desire which the multiplicity of repressive social customs I live with can’t properly erase. I go to experience a fuller version of myself; a self not properly represented by filling in a form, ironing a t-shirt, or putting fuel in the car. Traces of my truth not yet extinguished. I watch Bernadette Robinson ‘be’ herself as herself being many others, and I experience simultaneously a skeptical anxiety and a prudent esteem. It is this hybrid I call beautiful and it is inside this hybrid I see myself. When I see The show goes On, I experience myself as a show determined to endure, carrying traces of the ‘me’ I have been and are constantly engaged in being.

For all these reasons and many more, there is something distinctly uncanny about Bernadette Robinsons shows. They are also unique. She is a phantom of ourselves and our longing, a deeper engagement than mere nostalgia. This talent lies as much in its ability to reach into me, as it does its ability to reach into those she represents. She is well crafted and a force to be sure, but she is equally a dedicated humanist, using song and voice to empathise and unite. To see her show is a joy one might be tempted to describe as magical, and feel equally silly in doing so. One thing is for sure; to see Bernadette Robinson ‘be’ these carefully chosen others, is to somehow sense her being ‘me.’ And that can only be described as magical.