Review: Robyn Archer: An Australian Songbook

Playhouse, Arts Centre Melbourne
Until 13 June

The highly entertaining two-hour show could be called the soundtrack of the glorious Robyn Archer’s life.

She, accompanied by a highly talented three-piece band – who also provide backing vocals – bring us largely a collection of little-known songs and a few poems.

There are a few tunes she wrote and others that chart the path of Australia’s heritage.

With her warm and engaging tone and crystal-clear enunciation, she pays homage to indigenous Australians and immigrants.

Her mum clearly has a special place in her heart with her love of the land.

And there is a bracket on parodies and blowhards, including politicians.

She ends the show with a lengthy doff to many of Australia’s placenames.

Photo by Brett Boardman 

From ballads, lullabies, laments and love songs to yodeling and up-tempo numbers, her range is magnificent.

From Bon Scott to Kate Miller Heidke and First Nations’ songwriters, An Australian Songbook is a rich and textured offering.

Archer and her cohort clearly have heaps of fun doing what they do. The chemistry between them is palpable.

Archer moves across time and place, moving from the 19th century to the here and now.

From deeply reverential to poking the bear, her – at times – salty mouth endears her to an appreciative crowd.

Importantly, she provides background and context to her songs – where they came from and how they came to be.

Call it a narrative concert, if you will, with the primary focus on the music.

Archer, the artist and provocateur in full flight, is truly a thing of beauty.

I, for one, greatly applaud her endeavours. She is a national treasure.

Commissioned by Queensland Theatre, Robyn Archer: An Australian Songbook is at the Playhouse, Arts Centre Melbourne until 13th June, 2023.

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Alex First

Alex First

Alex First believes all people have a story to tell, if only a good playwright can prize it out of them. Alex has a natural curiosity about the world and believes a strong narrative, or narrative with music, can open the door to subjects about which he knows little. Like his parents before him, theatre is his passion – a passion with emotional resonance, one that moves and excites him. He brings decades’ experience as an arts’ connoisseur to his role as a critic.
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