Perth’s love affair with Meow Meow began when she blew into town for the first ‘official’ Fringe World in 2012, gracing the Spiegeltent with her unpredictable whims, her buxom assets and luxurious vocals. She’s been back to Perth once or twice since then, but has mostly been jetsetting around the globe, playing with the most famous orchestras in the most hallowed halls. And now she returns to our glitzy capital city as a veritable cat empress with her latest tour de feline force, Meow Meow’s Little Mermaid.
A PIAF co-commission with Malthouse Theatre and Sydney Festival, Meow Meow’s take on the Hans Christian Andersen tale brings with it a 5-piece band called The Siren Effect Orchestra as well as support from performer Chris Ryan. Meow Meow’s glamorous entourage may have gotten bigger, her set (Anna Cordingley) and lights (Paul Jackson) splashier, but she’s still the same exotic bird she always has been.
She’s kept the classic hallmarks of her cabaret performances intact – there’s the crowd-sourcing and crowd-surfing, the sex doll that serves as stunt double, the impatience with the limitations of the show’s production values (here, an infuriating lack of automatic bubbles) and the chastising of her crew, musicians and stage guests (“You’re blocking me!”); it’s all there, but re-purposed to fit a new theme.
And this theme is love and happy endings! ‘This is a show about happiness,’ Meow Meow wails through a face full of sobs at the top of the show. She’s draped in two fake furs and party streamers, having just been stranded on a rock in a terrible storm. And here we begin to see the hints of The Little Mermaid come through. It’s notable that the tale’s happy ending is a contentious subject for many scholars who feel it just doesn’t fit, that the whole thing is set up for a tragic ending. And Meow Meow toys with this idea too, setting us up for a broken heart. You’ll have to see the show to see where she goes with it.
As ever, Meow Meow’s voice is a cloak you want to bundle yourself in for hours, and frankly, there isn’t enough of it. 75 minutes is too short a sojourn to bask in the warmth of her vocal cords, but it’s what we get, and perhaps it’s better she leaves us wanting more, isn’t it?
She shares the limelight with Chris Ryan, who happens to be doing double-duty (in a way) here at PIAF 2016: the acclaimed Ibsen adaptation that he co-wrote with Simon Stone for Belvoir Sydney, Wild Duck, is running next week. Ryan takes the audience and Meow Meow by surprise and fulfills the role of The Little Mermaid’s prince. He’s a good match for Meow Meow, in that he doesn’t take up too much of her ‘sacred space,’ but can do the job right when called upon.
There’s much more of the melancholy in this production, and Meow Meow, though wonderfully manic and hilarious much of the time, allows herself longer periods of soul-searching here. The heartache she sings about feels real, though she’s forced to maintain this glamorous facade, constantly touring, waking up in strange places with strange bedfellows. It parallels nicely with the heartache that characterises The Little Mermaid, and the script pulls through the original story’s elements and imagery in creative ways.
Meow Meow is sensational, so SCHNELL! Get your tickets! She’s here until Sunday (two shows a night sometimes, for god’s sake). Who knows where her next flight will take her (though I hear she’s going to be off with the fairies at The Globe), or when she’ll be back to express her dissatisfaction at Perth again.
Meow Meow’s The Little Mermaid runs until Sunday 28 Feb at UWA’s Octagon Theatre. For more information and tickets, visit the PIAF website here.