Robyn Archer: An Australian Songbook

Robyn-Archer-in-Australian-Songbook-with-Enio-Pozzebon-and-Cameron-Goodall-photo-by-Brett-BoardmanIf you’re a fan of Robyn Archer it will come as no surprise that the songs in her Australian Songbook might be quite different to what you might have chosen. In fact it would be surprising if you had previously heard more than a few of her choices.

It’s no accident that Archer is regarded as a National Living Treasure. With an international reputation for her contributions to the arts, Archer is a much decorated songwriter / entertainer / political activist / provocateur / historian / artistic director and influencer.

She’s also a delightfully cheeky entertainer with a penchant for rude songs. All these passions are reflected in this brilliantly devised, simply staged entertainment, which she delivered, positioned behind a microphone, her script on a stand in front of her.

Her choices were thought-provoking, sometimes provocative, often surprising, always interesting, definitely entertaining and threaded together by an engrossing script.

Joining her on stage were three skilled musical colleagues in George Butrumlis on piano accordion, Cameron Goodall on guitars and banjo, and Enio Pozzebon on keyboard who gilded her lily with delicious musical arrangements, cheeky harmonies, and even contributing the occasional amusing solo when opportunity presented .

Setting the tone with her own composition, I Am Not Now or Will I Ever Be, Archer declares that she is not to be compared with other Australian icons like Crocodile Dundee, Bazza McKenzie or Germaine Greer, before launching into a fascinating history of Australia told through song.

Archer obviously delights in words and includes in her program several musicalisations of the words Australian poets and playwrights, even politicians. A stand-out song being an intriguing  musical setting by  Brisbane-based composer, Rob Davidson, of Julia Gillard’s misogyny speech.

Early in the program when commenting on Australians who had come from other lands, she included a heart-felt reading of a poem by Queanbeyan poet, Omar Musa, The Great Displaced. When commenting on First Nation’s issues she sang Dr Lou Bennet’s haunting song about her birthing tree, Jaara Nyilamum.

Included in the program were several songs from Australian musicals. From Max Lambert’s musical based on Kenneth Slessor’s poems, Darlinghurst Night, Archer chose In choker’s Lane, an ode to Sydney’s infamous Palmer Street. From the musical Lola Montez she featured a new song written by Peter Stannard for a revival of this show, Lola’s Misgivings.

Enio Pozzebon and Cameron Goodall offered an hilarious version of Heavens, Mr. Evans from the Casey Bennetto’s hugely successful, Keating the Musical for which Pozzebon was an original cast member, and from the musical Songs from Sideshow Alley which she wrote for herself and Robyn Nevin, Archer performed an up-beat version of The Backyard Abortion Waltz, opening up the opportunity for several other of her strident feminist anthems including The Menstruation Blues, The Menopause Blues and Kate Miller-Heidke’s uncharacteristically bitter, The Facebook Song.

Taking a deep dive into political parody Archer included a song by Bungendore satirist’s Shortis and Simpson, Bob Menzies Balls, Art Leonard’s 1930’s depression song Banish the Budget Blues, which still felt remarkably pertinent, and a song she wrote with Paul Grabowsky, I Dig Up Dirt.

Archer covered many more topics in her wide-ranging, generous program. Too many to list here, but the crowning achievement of the night, was the fabulous encore in which Archer and her associates sang through snippets of no fewer than 31 songs about Australian towns and cities which earned them a spontaneous and enthusiastic standing ovation.

Robyn Archer: An Australian Songbook
Playhouse – Canberra Theatre Centre, Civic Square, London Circuit, Canberra
Performance: Friday 7 July 2023
Season continues to 8 July 2023
Information and Bookings:

Image: Robyn Archer in An Australian Songbook with Enio Pozzebon (left) and Cameron Goodall (right) – photo by Brett Boardman

Review: Bill Stephens OAM