Meow Meow likes to say she was born on a Berlin bar, lost in the martini mists of time. She’s notoriously secretive about herself – age, background, why she does what she does – but this only makes her spectacular, anarchic form of cabaret all the more intriguing.
Her latest show, Little Mermaid, takes Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy story and hauls it by its hair into the twenty-first century. Through a combination of sultry pop covers, original songs written with collaborators Amanda Palmer, Kate Miller-Heidke and Megan Washington, and acerbic monologues, Meow Meow slides and stalks and soars through her version of the story about the mermaid who fell in love with a mortal man. Faced with a choice between love and her life in the sea, she sheds her tail to gain a human soul.
It’s not always terribly easy to figure out what’s going on in relation to the original story in this show. Which doesn’t matter in the slightest as I suspect that Meow Meow dressed in a paper bag and chatting about her day would be infinitely more entertaining than most of us manage in a lifetime. But reminding yourself of the Little Mermaid story before seeing her show might help you decipher her stagger from one stunning cabaret song to another.
This is a stunning production from Melbourne-based Malthouse Theatre. A six piece band, a stunning set (complete with mermaid staple, a golden roving rock) Meow Meow is known for making mischief on stage – and for crowd surfing on her audience. She doesn’t disappoint in either regard in this show. Clad in exotic underwear / body armour with her trademark chaotic black bob and spiky eyelashes, she purrs glamour, frolics like the most sophisticated circus act and her voice is incredible. You could listen to a night of her singing, dressed in the aforementioned paper bag, without feeling remotely short-changed.
Instead, she brings us a poignant and angry musing on relationships, love and loneliness. The perfect fodder for a cabaret song, she sings of impossible love, of love leaving her behind and of men that never quite measure up. When her handsome prince eventually makes an appearance from entirely unexpected quarters, she winds up wondering if sacrificing her freedom is really worth it for this golden, glorious man.
Feminist cabaret wouldn’t be the first descriptor that pops into your mind as she slithers around the stage trying not to burst out of her corset. But Meow Meow’s magic comes from doffing a cap to convention and then stamping on it. She’s ace.