The Magic Mirrors Spiegeltent, Hyde Park North, January 8
This show is about happiness, says cabaret diva Meow Meow, perched on a rock singing Black’s Wonderful Life while fighting back sobs.
In fact, Meow Meow’s Little Mermaid (which follows her Little Match Girl cabaret) is more about the fraught search for happiness and love.
Meow Meow is the alter ego of Melissa Madden Gray: a postmodern, Weimar-infused, “kamikaze” cabaret artist with bombshell looks, a whirlwind stage presence, sultry vocals and a saucy sense of humour.
As you’d expect, this is no straightforward telling of Hans Christian Andersen’s dark tale about the mermaid who endures agonising pain in her new feet in order to be with the Prince she saved from the sea, only for him to marry someone else.
Playing as part of the Sydney Festival, it’s no Disney version either but something idiosyncratically Meow Meow’s.
Many of her trademark tropes are there: the hilarious, throwaway one-liners, the need for adoration, the crowd surfing and the passive aggressive dealings with the audience. Here, however, she seems gentler than in the past. Just don’t get in her light.
Add a sex doll dressed like her, plastic body parts representing previous relationships who might make the ideal partner when combined, flippers, bubbles and a Prince from her subconscious (actor Chris Ryan in sparkly outfit with scallop shell codpiece) and you have some idea of the comic mayhem.
Ryan also makes a surprise entry in more blokey attire and gives a beautiful rendition of Schubert’s Am Meer (By the Sea).
Underpinning it all are piercing riffs on love, desire, obsession, sacrifice and the state of the world with references ranging from the frivolous to the highly sophisticated.
Accompanied by The Siren Effect Orchestra under musical director Jethro Woodward, the show includes some wonderful songs, most of them originals by the likes of Iain Grandage, Megan Washington, Kate Miller-Heidke and Amanda Palmer. What’s more, Meow Meow has a gorgeous smoky voice – except perhaps when singing in dolphin – and mines the emotional depth in the lyrics.
Unobtrusively directed by Michael Kantor, with set and costumes by Anna Cordingley and lighting by Paul Jackson, the 70-minute show is outrageously entertaining with provocative themes beneath the surface, all delivered in classic Meow Meow fashion.
Meow Meow’s Little Mermaid plays until January 23. Bookings: www.sydneyfestival.org.au/meow or 1300 856 876
A version of this review ran in the Sunday Telegraph on January 17