Meow Meow is a cabaret genius, and really you should just stop reading this right now and go and book yourself a ticket to see The Little Mermaid at the Malthouse before it closes on Valentine’s Day (has there ever been a more fitting closing night?). She has crafted the beloved – and oft sugar-coated – story into a wickedly funny and simultaneously devastating piece of theatre exploring love and womanhood, peppered with astonishing vocals and exquisite design.
Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid is a dark, dark tale. A young woman descends into self-mutilation in her quest to find true love, only to turn to suicide after the man she loves rejects her. Meow Meow’s version lightens things up a bit with dry humour, sequins and fabulous banter, but does not shy away from the frankly gut-wrenching horror at the heart of the story.
It is not so much a re-telling of the tale but a riff on its themes; the show is ultimately a fantastical 70-minute meditation on love, loss, pain, sex, beauty and womanhood, mostly set inside our star’s subconscious. Meow Meow enters the stage weeping, sits on a rock, looks up at us with the saddest of faces and says, “this is a show about happiness.” Ultimately, it is. But she is not about to let us leave without some serious bruises on the way to that end-goal.
She dances, she sings, she flips above our heads and swims through the air. There’s a terrific and varied score – mostly new compositions from Amanda Palmer, Jherek Bischoff, Megan Washington, Iain Grandage, Kate Miller-Heidke and Thomas M Lauderdale. There are fishnets and corsets and red lips and eyelashes, fabulous costumes and a wonderful band. It has all the elements of cabaret in its purest form – and yet it is not, for it goes deeper and wider than most cabaret artists could ever dream of.
Meow Meow’s performance is brilliant and magnetic; her command of her audience and her craft is astonishing and, even in the strangest moments of the show, she makes you feel in the safest of hands. Chris Ryan also shines as a man who appears in both her fantasy and her reality, and is a gracious and generous performance who knows he is there with a job to do, not a show to steal.
Paul Jackson – God of Lighting – has delivered again with a striking and whimsical design, which is always evocative and interesting, and set and costume design from Anna Cordingley is equally sublime. Jethro Woodward’s musical direction is nuanced and brings out the best in all the performers – both the singers and the accompanying band, The Siren Effect Orchestra. Direction from Michael Kantor is deft and nuanced, and brings all of the many and varied elements together into a meaningful show full of delights.
It is rare that you will find cabaret that is both thoughtful and thought provoking, and even rarer to find one with this much talent, beauty and soul. Meow Meow’s The Little Mermaid is sublime, and a gorgeous way to kick off your theatregoing season.