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Weill, Brecht, and much, much more.

BWW Review: ROBYN ARCHER: MOTHER ARCHER'S CABARET FOR DARK TIMES – ADELAIDE CABARET FESTIVAL 2021 at Dunstan Playhouse, Adelaide Festival Centre Reviewed by Barry Lenny, Saturday 12th June 2021.

Robyn Archer planned to team up, once again, with Michael Morley (piano) and George Butrumlis (accordion) in Mother Archer's Cabaret For Dark Times. With Butrumlis having to travel from interstate, and COVID-19 making all plans tentative, she wisely tracked down an accordionist in Adelaide, Gareth Chin, to be on standby to fill in, just in case. What happened? Butrumlis was able to make it, but Morley fell ill and couldn't perform. By remarkably good luck, Chin also plays piano, and learned the entire show in only 48 hours.

Archer opened her performance with Alabama Song, from the opera, Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill. Much of the poetry linking the songs, in fact, came from Brecht. The evils of alcohol formed the first part of the production, going country and western to warn that Whiskey is the Devil.

The production, as usual, is an extremely well-researched collection of works, enhanced with text and poetry linking the songs, much of which, in fact, came from Brecht.

Among the less well-known works was an English translation of Monsieur William, by Léo Ferré and Jean-Roger Caussimon, detailing his tragic end, and even a piece on alcohol by W. C. Fields. There were also a couple of Archer's own songs.

From the dangers of alcohol, the theme moved to the dark side of love, the brief happiness, and the lasting pain. Country and western, yeehaw, yodel, is the biggest purveyor of songs about love gone wrong, and that's what we were given, with the sadness of her lost love being like an insect on the windscreen of her heart. We laughed through the tears.

I particularly enjoyed her performance of Song of the Flow of Things, by Brecht and Paul Dessau. This was followed by a song by the great blues singer-guitarist, Huddy 'Leadbelly' Ledbetter, The Titanic. Out came her ukulele for a very funny piece of her own, about the loss of democracy in Australia with the sacking of the Whitlam Government, written at the time of the Queen's Jubilee. That went down very well, perhaps reflecting on our present government, but that's another story, and not a pleasant one.

Aristide Bruant, the French cabaret singer made famous by Toulouse Lautrec, who painted the image in which he wears a large hat and red scarf, wrote the next, very lively, song, about Paris. Then in the absence of any record of the music, Archer recited the words of the cynical depression-era work, The Stock Exchange Song. That led where one could have guessed, straight into the iconic depression song, Buddy, Can You Spare a Dime. The relevance to our COVID-19 era was not lost. One Meat Ball was next, the 1944 update by Lou Singer and Hy Zaret of The Lone Fish Ball, written by George Martin Lane in 1855. Poverty is nothing new, and it seems that it is going to be with us a lot longer.

Back to Brecht and Weill for What Keeps Mankind Alive?, from The Threepenny Opera. A sudden change of mood, and a humorous a capella song about the moving of a London grandfather's grave to make way for a sewer. Noël Coward's There Are Bad Times Just Around The Corner brought the main programme to its conclusion, but there was an encore demanded, and prepared, a beautiful song from the 16th Century, by Orlando Gibbons, which suddenly switched to that Marlene Dietrich classic, See What the Boys in the Back Room Will Have.

Once more, a performance by Robyn Archer seemed over all too soon, the time having flown past. Let's hope she is back next year with another of these marvellous performances, with their strong links to the Berlin Kabarett of the time of the Weimar Republic, the source of the best in modern cabaret.

Image: Claudio Raschella.

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