Adelaide Cabaret Festival – Robyn Archer

Robyn Archer. Photo by Rohan Thomson
Robyn Archer. Photo by Rohan Thomson

Robyn Archer began her career as a cabaret singer at the opening of Adelaide’s Space Theatre in Brecht and Weill’s Seven Deadly Sins in 1974. Her international career as a performer and festival director returns her to Adelaide for Que Reste-T’il?, a celebration of French cabaret.

Joined by long-term collaborators Michael Morley and George Boutroumlis, she’s on the big stage of the Festival Theatre, and is also joined by the audience at crowded tables (the huge auditorium hidden by curtains). So, with Robyn’s courteous insistence, they can say they have sung on the Festival Theatre stage in The Cabaret Festival.

Archer’s great strengths are the energy she brings to everything she does, her years of research and performing, her compassion, humour and zest for song. All of which were on display in the generous 100-minute show.

The show began with a celebration of Le Chat Noir (The Black Cat), the Montmartre café where cabaret began under the guidance of Aristide Bruant. It was sexy, subversive and fuelled by alcohol and the desire to get away from the life of the streets. Archer asks what is left after all the years, songs and memories.

The show began with audience participation and with Bruant’s hymn of praise to Montmartre, followed by the grimly jaunty street song ‘V’la le cholera’ (Here comes Cholera).

Charting the life of cabaret in Montmartre with song and story, the early years led to the eruption of the Dada movement and an amazing plan to save trees by creating a daily newspaper on celluloid, which would be read with a patented device. Subscriptions were invited.

While other cabaret developed in Europe, most importantly in Weimar Germany, the new French venue for songs and stories was the music hall. The most famous was The Olympia where great troubadour Jacques Brel sung and was celebrated by Archer with ‘Ca va’ (where the Devil reports that all is to his satisfaction on Earth) and ‘Carousel a Mille Temps’ from the musical Jacques Brel is alive and well and living in Paris.

Her obligatory Piaf number was ‘L’accordeoniste’, throwing the spotlight on Boutroumlis wild and witty playing of ‘the people’s grand piano’.

To end the night, a medley of Charles Trenet’s melancholy songs lead into an updated version of Judy Small’s ‘La Vie en Pose’, the famous Piaf song with appropriate sounding French words substituting for the original lyrics. And the encore was ‘Alouette’, the song we all learned at school about plucking a little bird, but this was the army version with drunken soldiers, whores, syphilis, and a shot of penicillin.

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