Monday, March 11, 2019


Robyn Archer in Picaresque.  Photo: Tony Lewis
Picaresque. Devised and Performed by Robyn Archer with George Butrumlis. Ann Wiberg. Designer Geoff Cobham. Exhibition designer. Wendy Todd. The Banquet Room. Adelaide Festival Centre. Adelaide Festival 2019. March 8 – 17.
Reviewed by Peter Wilkins
The secret is out. Robyn Archer is Australia’s favourite Singing Jilldaw. Jackdaws are renowned hoarders and a walk through the entrance to the Banquet Room of the Festival Centre to see Archer’s Picaresque is proof enough of Archer’s “carbon footprint of shame” as she calls it. Along the walls hang a plethora of travel memorabilia from luggage tabs and labels to Do Not Disturb signs, writing paraphernalia and airline blindfolds. It is proof positive of Archer’s international reputation as an artist of extraordinary talent.

Inside the Banquet Room an even more amazing sight greets us. Inspired by the Sam Smith marquettes that she encountered during her decade in London, Archer has been an avid collector of flat pack marquettes of the many places she has travelled to during her stellar career.-from Sydney to London, from Paris to Kyoto, from Lucknow to San Francisco. She has never visited Prague, so the Basilica in Budapest is close enough. Somewhere along the trail, she has lost the Taj Mahal and the Parthenon but they are hardly missed amongst the stunning array of cardboard models, surrounded by small lights and conjuring memories of places visited and highlights of her remarkable cabaret career.

Archer enters to “I Love Paris” on guitar, followed by accompanist George Butrumlis on accordion. Troubador-like they move to the small stage amongst the miniature buildings. What follows is an extraordinary repertoire of songs that Archer has interpreted in her own inimitable style over four decades. Interspersed with anecdotes of her life and travels, Archer leads us from the Great American Song Book, to the songs of Eisler and Brecht to the primary school anthem, sung in the quad to her beloved Paris and the seductive La Vie en Rose. From Dean Martin to Bertolt Brecht, from Burlington Bertie from Bow to Jacques Brel’s Port of Amsterdam, from Mozart to Haydn and Yodeller Mary Schneider to Johann Sebastian Bach Archer entrances and enchants with a repertoire of extraordinary breadth. Her picaresque selection of songs like the displays of memorabilia and marquettes are the nostalgic highlights of life’s journey. Her aria may not have the rich timbre of the past, and some notes may be more challenging to reach, but there is no doubting her control of the blues and her passion for the political songs of Brecht.

I sit enthralled by Archer’s relaxed and friendly charm. Songs of my generation conjure affection for the past, its journeys and its music. Audiences who have followed Archer’s illustrious career or have lived Life’s journey through her time will revel in the performance with virtuoso accompanist, Butrumlis on accordion and bouzouki. Travellers will delight in the cardboard world laid out before them. But most of all, they will be willing travelers through Archer’s own songbook of memories. Picaresque is snatches of songs from Archer’s vast repertoire. This is armchair entertainment. No glitz or glamour sparkles with false pretension. Her songbook is the chapter and verse of love. Her voice glides along a stream of memory with humour, affection and passion.

Picaresque is a journey of delightful stopovers in the company of a travel guide extraordinaire.