Mother Archer’s Cabaret For Dark Times.
Robyn Archer. George Butrumlis on accordion. Gareth Chin on piano. Dunstan Playhouse. Adelaide Cabaret Festival. Adelaide Festival Centre. June 12-14 2021
Reviewed by Peter Wilkins.
Passion courses through Robyn Archer’s songlist. With her latest show, Archer is in her element. Mother Archer’s Cabaret For Dark Times gives a nod to the current pandemic with her rendition of Aristide Bruant’s nineteenth century song about the cholera epidemic. With songs ranging back to Oliver Gibbons’ The Silver Swan, written in the seventeenth century and forward to Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weil, Marlene Dietrich, Brother Can You Spare A Dime from the Great American Songbook and Noel Coward’s revue song, There are Bad Times Just Around The Corner, Archer reaches into the dark corners of our psyche and the society that spawns the struggles against poverty, misery, exploitation and corrupt power. Opening with The Alabama Song from The Rise and Fall of Mahagonny, Archer demonstrates her brilliant grasp of phrasing and her empathy for soldiers drowning their fears in whisky. Not only does she rightfully claim her status as a wonderful exponent of the songs of Brecht and Weill, but also demonstrates a diversity that has established her as a major voice for the politically oppressed and the socially disadvantaged. At a time of fear and financial collapse, Mother Archer’s Cabaret For Dark Times offers a panacea for survival and a defiance against the ravages of liquor, death, disadvantage and the relentless advance of the ageing years. “I’m seventy-three next Friday” says the Gemini star.
Archer’s wide ranging repertoire is a homage to life. Interspersed with the poetry of Bertolt Brecht, her songs storm against the injustices in What Keeps Mankind Alive or mock the evils of liquor espoused by none other than WC Fields. In soulful voice, Archer reminds us that the pain of love lasts a whole life long in Plaisir D’amour. We are warned that “there are dark clouds hurtling through the sky” in Noel Coward’s post war patter, There Are Bad Times Just Around The Corner that makes fun of post war Britons’ propensity to moan.
With accordionist and long time collaborator, George Butrumlis and pianist Gareth Chin, who stepped in two days earlier to brilliantly replace Archer’s other close accompanist, Michael Morley, Archer has put together a show that showcases her enormous talent as chanteuse and political and social commentator. The tragedy of oppression and manipulation is tempered with the comedy of human defence against the hard times that reminds us, like Archer, not to take oneself too seriously, but to always challenge and defy the forces of injustice. She can still belt out a tune to right the wrongs, jest at Democracy’s collapse at the Dismissal, feel for the battlers on the poverty lines and revel in the absurdity of the human condition.
On the Dunstan Playhouse stage, painted in indigenous designs, Archer stands and sings in a spirit of reconciliation for all humanity. Her natural assurance, sincerity and humanity asserts her place as a committed advocate for the underprivileged, a celebrated chanteuse with passion and humour and a national treasure.