Apocalypse Meow- review by Darby Turnbull
My theatre companion described Meow Meow’s latest production Apocalypse Meow as making ‘the dead parts of you live again’. The divine doyenne of international performance art is currently holding court at the Malthouse theatre and it would be a shame to miss her before she whisks away leaving nothing but gold confetti in her wake.
Apocalypse Meow is a Christmas soiree for those who (like this reviewer) despise the holiday season. I imagine the visceral pleasures of this performance would be sharper closer to the end of the year; Meow Meow herself comments on the absurdity of doing a Christmas show in November; but when the supermarkets are already blaring carols by third rate pop stars her bitter decadence is a welcome respite. She encapsulates everything about the season that we can scarcely bring ourselves to admit; the hollow decadence, our weakening defences against loneliness and self-loathing, the poverty of spirit and the increasingly manic attempts to rustle up some holiday cheer that is all but forced on us by our corporate overlords. The longer we’re in her orbit the more apparent it becomes that most of us are unwittingly making performance art out of the holiday, Meow Meow however does it with more wit and abandon than most of us would dare. By curtain call I was hoping that she would be commissioned by SBS to do a televised performance as an alternative to Carols by Candlelight. Her self-pitying tirades are filled with some deliciously acidic bon mots though there are times when the schtick tends to become repetitive with shifts of tone tending to become more jarring than fluid especially when each evolution brings with it something more fascinating and perverse. Michaela Burger shows up late in the proceedings as a buoyantly macabre mirror of Meow Meow; matching her step for step and note for note whilst allowing her own winning persona to shine. Two young carollers are also grudgingly invited on to the stage; at this performance played by the very game Riya Mandrawa and Dusty Burstill. Their silently dry responses to the antics around them are low key highlights.
Michael Kanter’s production ingeniously combines melancholy and euphoria; Andrea Lauer has designed a stunning deconstructed bric a brac aesthetic that gives Meow Meow room to play and dominate the space. Paul Jackson’s lighting is masterful with some truly beautiful mis en scene that heightens every shifting emotional beat with titanic grace. There is a stunning moment when Meow performs a dance aria from the Nutcracker against a projection bathed in icy blue light that took my breathe away.
But of course, it’s when she sings that she ascends to her pinnacle. Her eerie mastery of lyric is matched only by her genius for the ways in which the timbre of her voice manages to convey increasingly mournful subtexts. Mark Jones, Dan Witton and musical director Jethro Woodward provide brilliantly witty and profound accompaniment, each are multi-talented and their personalities are comically complimentary to Meow Meow but never draw focus, they are also decked out in beautifully sequinned suits and hard hats.
Apocalypse Meow isn’t a perfect show and it doesn’t have pretensions to be one; she provides space for us to sit with our messy inadequacies and makes them fabulous. Her presence is unmatched and given this was my first time seeing her perform I could see precisely why she has achieved such legendary status.
*Audiences should note that the performance features frequent and possibly invasive audience interaction. At the performance I attended there was no warning outside the theatre and Meow Meow takes it for granted that audiences will want to participate. Audience members who aren’t comfortable being approached might want to have a quiet word with the front of house team.
Performances: 4.5 Direction: 4.5 Sound/Lighting: 4.5
Stage management 4.5 Set/costumes: 4.5 Writing: 4.5 Music 4.5
Images: Pia Johnson.