REVIEW: Mother Archer’s Cabaret for dark times at Adelaide Cabaret Festival

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Robyn Archer returns to the familiar setting of the Dunstan Playhouse for her 3-night season of Mother Archer’s Cabaret for dark times. The blurb promises the return of Robyn Archer “with her characteristically broad comic sense (and a healthy dose of Mother Courage) for a stirring, funny and moving program of songs from the 17th to the 20th century.” Robyn Archer most definitely delivers just that.

Mother Archer’s Cabaret for dark times
Image: Claudio-Raschella


The opening song is about something that many have been doing during COVID lockdown : drinking. A powerful opening number being “Alabama Bar (Whiskey Bar)” written by Robyn Archer’s familiar playwright and poet Bertolt Brecht. But it’s not all fun drinking as that “fatal glass of beer” proves.


Over the 70 minutes of the show, Robyn Archer, accompanied by Gareth Chang on piano and George Butrumlis on accordion, and occasionally playing her own guitar and ukulele, takes us through dark times. We go from the evils of drinking to the misfortunes of and the pain of love, and onto the cholera pandemic “all the work is going to cark” with a brief segway via democracy and waving goodbye to socialism.


We hear about the financial crashes both in song but also via the lyrics of “The stock exchange song” which Archer reads out as there is no recording of the music to which they were intended to be performed. Archer also performs “Brother can you spare a dime”, a song which also featured in her Adelaide Festival 2019 show Picaresque. We hear of homelessness and of being unable to afford food


The mood lightens for a humorous song about “shifting grandfather’s grave to build a sewer” before wrapping up with Noel Coward on the trials and tribulations of post-war England. Archer returns for an encore this time performing a 16th century song by Orlando Gibbins before concluding with a song originally performed by cabaret icon Marlene Dietrich.


Archer moves from English to Italian to Latin, French and German with ease. From Brecht’s theatre songs to Archer’s own country music ditties, Archer shows the breadth and range of her vocal ability There’s even a yodel or two. The audience are even encouraged to sing along to one of the songs.


A special mention must be given to Gareth on piano who learned the whole of the program with just 24 hours’ notice after Michael Morley, the usual pianist, who has been across the works for several months took ill and was unable to perform.


Mother Archer’s cabaret for dark times is a clearly well-researched show featuring songs from many eras, many styles and many backgrounds. Far from being depressing, the show moves through dark themes interspersed with comedy to lighten the mood. As always Robyn Archer is a delight.




Matilda Marseillaise was a guest of Adelaide Cabaret Festival

WHAT: Robyn Archer Mother Archer’s Cabaret for dark times

WHEN: Last show 5pm Monday 14 June 2021

WHERE: Dunstan Playhouse, Adelaide

HOW: Purchase your tickets via the Adelaide Cabaret Festival website:


Premium tickets: Adult $69

A reserve tickets: Adult $59, concession $54

plus a $8.95 service and handling fee per transaction


For more Adelaide Cabaret Festival 2021 articles, you may like to read the following interviews:

Craig Ilott, director of L’Hotel

Caroline Nin, singer in L’Hotel

Kim David Smith in Mostly Marlene

Brent Ray Fraser, the Naked Artist



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