Robyn Archer reflects on a life around the world in Picaresque

Reading Time: 4 minutes

On Tuesday night, the audience filled the half-moon seating of the Banquet Room at the Adelaide Festival Centre, where Robyn Archer’s Adelaide Festival show Picaresque is being held.


As you walk towards the entrance of the Banquet Room, you walk past boards of boarding passes, heavy luggage tags, hotel pens, hotel slippers and Qantas inflight magazines. Early on in the show, Archer tells us that this is called “The Robyn Archer Carbon Footprint of Shame: as she assures us that she’s not a hoarder but that she had kept everything knowing there would be a use for it at some point. Cheekily hinting that she knew this show was going to happen sometime in her future.


The centre of the room was filled with tables on which stand intricate maquettes, models of significant buildings from around the world. Robyn Archer and George Butrulius enter the room, Archer strumming her guitar and George Butrulius playing his accordion. The show opens with a very American song, being about Mama’s roadtrain.


We then go to where Archer’s travels began, in London at the age of 29 when she went to be interviewed by and ultimately perform for the Royal National Theatre of London. To that end she sings the 1932 song by Bud Flanagan and Reg Connelly “Underneath the arches”. William Hargreaves’ 1915 “Burlington Bertie from Bow” was fun song and one which had the audience laughing at certain points.


Archer is not just an accomplished singer, guitarist and ukulele player but also quite the story-teller. Between songs, and sometimes even in the middle of songs, Archer tells the audience stories of her travels or about the songs themselves.


Then we head across to the continent for Italy, where Archer performs a song of resistance “Bella ciao”, which she performed back in the 70s at The Italian Festival in Adelaide and at this point calls out to someone who asked her to perform at that very festival. We then launch into a Dean Martin ode to Italy. Archer jokingly tells us that to sound like Dean Martin you just need to not let your lips meet when you say consonants. Her version of the song sounded uncannily like Dean Martin and had the audience in laughter.


We then travel with Archer to Switzlerand with a bit of yodelling and a nod to Mary Schneider, Australia’s Queen of Yodel, who Archer herself programmed at one of her Adelaide Festivals, which caused massive outcry from lovers of classical music.


Then across the border into Austria, where we have a bit of Mozart (but much to my joy, in French) and the “Song of the Moldau” by Eric Bentley, Bertolt Brecht and Hanns Eisle.


Unsurprisingly given Archer’s experience performing Brecht songs, he features a few times in the repertoire of Picaresque, including in the Song of the Moldau mentioned above but also with “The Children’s Anthem” and “The Threepenny Opera” which Archer sings for Germany.


Archer has not visited Greece and has somehow managed to lose the flat packed model of the Parthenon! That however allows George Butrulius  to shine, singing in Greek for the first time while playing the bazooka. He sings a song of a son writing to his mother to inform her he has consumption.


We then travel on to “The Port of Amsterdam” before heading to Spain, where we are treated to another “Bilbao Song”, which is another by Brecht (and Kurt Weill).


We continue with travels to Russia and India, the latter being where Archer performed a song at a memorial service to Walter Burley Griffin, designer of Canberra who passed in Lucknow, India.


Australia is not left out either. Archer makes a quick segway, while onto the subject on anthems as Archer performs “The Song of Australia” and reminds us that this was one of the choices in the 1977 plebiscite. She amusingly tells us the story of singing “My city of Sydney” with her head in a bucket, having being inspired by a cockatoo who would squawk with his head in a tin, which amplified the terrible sound even more. Archer also delights us singing one of her own compositions from 35 years ago.


Many of the maquettes that we see around the room were sourced from a bookstore near L’Odeon Theatre in Paris and as such it is only fitting that Archer performs a French song. Archer wanted to keep this as a surprise for the show when I interviewed her so I am going to keep the secret here too.


Archer tells us about her travels all across America from coast to coast and up and down and across. First up in the American songs is “Brother, Can you Spare a Dime” best known as performed by Bing Crosby. Archer tells us that her arrival on the West Coast was on the same evening that Reagan was elected and that her arrival in New York followed the assassination of John Lennon.


America is represented by a very fun, extensive mash-up of songs featuring American cities. We counted at least 20 different songs represented.


Having then gone slightly over the one hour designated time, George tells Archer it’s time to wrap up as he has “a hot date” and the audience has other places they need to be. He proceeds to walk off stage and start walking out. Archer keeps telling us about places she’s been before they close with a song for Lima and walk out the very door they, and we entered through.


Archer’s enthusiasm not just for travelling but also for singing and story-telling is a joy to see. This show is not just a reflection of her travels but also on her performing life. Archer appears to genuinely enjoy taking us on her trip down memory lane.


And as for the accordion, George Butrulius has most definitely shown that it is a multi-dimensional instrument and one that works across a variety of musical styles. Have you ever heard Mozart played on an accordion before? I didn’t think so.


This show is a joy to watch and we urge you to join Robyn Archer and George Butrulius on their voyage around the world this Adelaide Festival.




Matilda Marseillaise was a guest of Adelaide Festival


Picaresque has just four shows left: 6pm Thursday 14 March, 10pm Friday 15 March, 5:30pm Saturday 16 March and 7pm on Sunday 17 March (which is also the last day of Adelaide Festival 2019).


Tickets cost $59 plus booking fee. There are discounts available for Friends of the Festival, concession card holders and under 30s. You can purchase your tickets here:


Robyn Archer will also be speaking at Festival Forums at 12:30pm on Thursday 14 March. This event is free:


You can view Picaresque, the exhibition of the maquettes and travel memorabilia for free each day from 10am to 5pm until the close of Adelaide Festival on Sunday 17 March.

Under the Paris Sky: music, laughs and dinner!

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Under The Paris Sky is a cabaret show with dinner and one of our recommended Adelaide Fringe shows.


We interviewed Georgia, one of the show’s creators.

Georgia, you, and Louise Lawson, are bringing your show Under the Paris Sky – Dinner & Show to the Adelaide Fringe for two performances in Thebarton in February. Tell us about the show.

The show is a celebration of well-loved French chanson/song. You’ll hear familiar tunes such as the sublimely beautiful “La Vie en Rose” and a powerfully moving rendition of “Non, je ne regrette rien”, two signature tunes of the great Edith Piaf, but also songs by the wonderful contemporary artist Zaz who is making an international name for herself writing great songs with knee-slapping rhythms and sublime lyrics that will uplift the world.


Georgia’s voice, especially when singing French, is sensuous and connected. She says she discovered her lips and her tongue when she started learning the French language and that is obvious during her songs as she executes the language with sensuous precision. She is resplendent in costume, with a glittering 3 x Eiffel Towers tiara reaching skyward from her own crown she has been described as “glittering” and a “powerhouse” performer by reviewers. Guests won’t need to understand French to love this show.  It is crafted so that each song is illuminated creatively so that English speakers have a nuance at least of what each song is about and can be swept up in the mood of it. This is done using techniques such as substituting an English verse or chorus, introducing a song with English poetry or just chatting about life or a telling a story which then leads directly into a song that embraces the same sense. Georgia’s wife Louise adds hilarious comedy to this show (see below).



The event is packaged with a 2-course French meal so you can have a whole French experience. Guests will order from a choice of dishes of home-style cooking by caterers and venue owners Sue and Sarah Gallpen. They will enjoy the main course before the show and have dessert afterwards. Guests can purchase a CD of the songs in the show which has recently been studio-recorded and mastered by Louise’s son Liam sound engineer extraordinaire whose company Pareidroolia is doing great things too. So all in all, guests will enjoy a lovely soirée (Fri) or matinée (Sat).


Do you both have French backgrounds?

Neither of us have French backgrounds in terms of ancestry but I have been a keen student and lover of French since high school. I think I may have been French in a past life! Louise did a French maid impersonation for me for….personal reasons, at which point I announced that the character would join me on stage as she was too funny not to share.


You’ve been creating cabaret shows for the last 6 years. Tell us how that came about. How did you meet? Do you both have theatrical/music backgrounds or training?

Louise is my wife.  We met, accidentally, online on a recipe-exchange site.  We were looking for a recipe not a relationship! I was living in Melbourne at the time and so for two years we had a long-distance relationship, flying interstate to be together every couple of months. It was sweet torture. Louise has a solid grounding in folk music with a special love of Australian bush stories and songs which she plays on her guitar, though not in this show. She has done short stints in bush bands too.


I was born theatrical. I was singing and dancing at 5, but did not follow my passion into adulthood and so ended up in the corporate world after finishing a computer science degree – WTF?! I’ve done some amateur theatre (including Les Misérables) but once I came to Adelaide in 2012, met and learned from wonderful mentors like Matthew Carey, Sidonie Henbest and Catherine Campbell, I discovered Cabaret, though as Matthew once said “Georgia thinks she’s discovered Cabaret, but Cabaret has always known Georgia


What artists can we expect to hear covered by you at Under the Paris Sky?

You will hear the songs of Edith Piaf, Zaz, Charles Trenet, Rupa and the April Fishes, Pink Martini and Jaques Brel. I am very excited in particular to include a number of Zaz’s  songs in the show because she is a fantastic contemporary song writer and I believe her music and lyrics are responsible for some of the most joyful and uplifting moments shared by people, particularly in Europe and as such are contributing to the change we need to see in the human world.  My hope is that I can be a conduit for her music to become popular in Australia, via my soon-to-be-released CD.


Tell us more about the comical characters

A fabulous part of this show is the unexpected comedy element. Character Julienne Carrotte makes an appearance after her cheating husband has left her for his secretary. A lady of leisure, Julienne couldn’t slice a vegetable if she tried. She blubbers her way through a wine-fueled, parodic rendition of “no regrets” that leaves us with no doubt as to how she is feeling about the treacherous couple. Well-loved French maid Cécile is there to “help”.  Georgia found her on the Internet and things have gone downhill ever since. Georgia hasn’t yet realized that Cécile is only interested in helping Cécile and that the disappearance of her jewelry and the chaos that has been her life ever since, is all due to this infamous maid (who we suspect is not a real maid and is not actually French!). Cecile has become a bit of a “cult” character around Adelaide in that people usually check whether Cecile is in the show before they buy tickets!. It seems Georgia may be stuck with Cecile, as her Aussie alter-ego says, “like shit to a blanket”.


Who is this show for?

This show is for people who love French songs but may have felt a little bit shy about going to French events because they don’t speak or understand the language. It is also for French-speaking people who miss hearing their beautiful native language whilst living in or visiting Australia. It is for those who love sophisticated Cabaret yet  doesn’t take itself too seriously.


Have you performed this show to French audiences before and if so, what did they think of it? Will the French appreciate Under the Paris Sky too?

I have performed some of the songs in this show to French audiences at Alliance Francaise events such as the opening of their French film festival and at the annual French market. They enjoyed my voice and the passion with which I interpreted each piece. They appreciated that I pronounce their language with little if any accent and some have even presumed I am une Francaise! – a French woman!


The ticket price includes home-cooked style dinner, main and dessert; vegetarian and GF catered for. Is the meal going to have a French focus? What is on the menu?


Yes, the meal will be French-style cuisine though the caterers will not finalise the menu until closer to the event to take into account variables like weather, numbers and whether I leave them any chocolate mousse for the guests.


Why should people come to see Under the Paris Sky?

If you love the sensuality of the French language sung to fabulous rhythms and sublime melodies then you should come to this show. It’s the whole experience because you don’t have to work out where to dine beforehand…just come and eat, drink and enjoy Georgia’s soaring voice, Simon Walter’s extraordinary piano playing and  Louise Lawson’s hilarious comedy. You don’t have to come to the CBD, we’re in Thebarton so it’s easy access. Guests can be assured of a fabulous evening!


Under the Paris Sky will only have two shows: Friday 22nd February evening and Saturday 23rd February matinée. Tickets are available here.

Don’t forget you can also read our full list of recommended shows here.