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Review: Robyn Archer: An Australian Songbook - Rising Festival, Playhouse

Review by Susanne Dahn


This unique curation and performance of the Australian national voice in song by cabaret, theatre and feminist legend Robyn Archer which was originally commissioned by Queensland Theatre, is a valuable touchstone in an arts festival comprised of mostly new work. Understanding who we are and where we have come from artistically, can centre and guide and constructively inform all new art making.

Robyn and her three very accomplished musical

collaborators - George Butrumulis (Zydeco Jump), Cameron Goodall (The Audreys) and Ennio Pozzebon (Keating The Musical) - take us on a journey through a carefully chosen Australian post-colonial musical catalogue, sharing songs well-known and not so well known, serious, satirical, sentimental but above all thoroughly thought provoking.


The genres cover folk, country, ballad, blues, musical theatre, cabaret, satire, rock and more. And the themes include first nations and convict laments alongside the trials and triumphs of the many waves of displaced and hopeful that have arrived in this land since colonisation.


The repertoire is, as you would expect from Robyn, not what might be expected, which is evident from Robyn’s opening line “I am not, nor will ever be, Crocodile Dundee”.


Composers include Yothu Yindi, Kate Miller-Heidke, Lou Bennett, Rev McGarvie, Greg Champion, McKean Sisters, as well as the inimitable Robyn Archer herself - with Menstruation Blues and it’s sequel Menopause Blues.


And some amazing numbers include “The Birthing Tree”, “The Plains of Emu”, “Palmer Street Blues”, “Magic of the Murray Moon”, “Gymkana Yodel”, “Back Yard Abortion Wars”, “Lola’s Misgiving”, “Weevils in the Flour” and “Dig Up Dirt”. The adaption of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” is hilarious and the musical The Misogyny Speech is striking.


George’s piano accordion is virtuosic and evokes a multitude of instruments and emotions, Cameron on banjo, 12 string acoustic and electric guitar is a thrilling player (and hilarious sometime actor) and Ennio on keyboards is a totally brilliant all-round contributor. Their harmonies together are both tender and great fun. The decade or more of collaboration between the players is joyously evident.


Our musical history as a nation is much richer and deeper than we might at first think and it’s a gift to us all that a musical genius like Archer and her collaborators have selected such a gem of a songbook for us to enjoy and reflect on.

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