Left – Meow Meow. Photo – Magnus Hastings
There are two types of person in the world; those who are fans of Meow Meow, and those who have not yet seen her and thus yet to become fans. Thing is, you can't make it through a Meow Meow performance without falling at least a little bit in love with her. She simply will not have it any other way. She demands adulation, and she deserves (and earns) every... whatever the single unit measurement of adulation is... lets call them schnells... she deserves every single schnell of adulation you will feel for her. And I'm not kidding – she really does demand that you adore her.
Little Match Girl is Hans Christen Anderson's story about a young girl sent out into the winter cold to sell matches. She cannot sell any matches but is too afraid to return home to her angry father and starts lighting the matches to stay warm and to enjoy the visions she sees in the flames and the smoke. She sees Christmas and she sees her dead grandmother, and during the night she dies alone in the doorway as the townfolk go about their day.
It's a simple but powerful little story that has resonated through the years. Apparently inspired by street kids in a documentary, the incendiary Meow Meow hasn't so much re-interpreted Anderson's tale as hijacked it and completely blown it up. The story is the centrepiece around which the songs and the dance and the general cabaret chaos revolve. Minutes into the show and the unexpected happens. Band members are despatched to resolve the crisis and Meow Meow resorts to... well I don't want to spoil it; let me just say that just because you are in the back corner or tucked snugly away in the middle of a row, do not think for a second that you are safe.
'Meow Meow' being, of course, Cantonese for 'mayhem mayhem', things go off the rails at a dizzying pace. There is geographical confusion (Meow is Princess Peripatetic, of no fixed address), a stranger in the bed, electrical malfunctions, groping in the dark, torch songs (nyuk nyuk), some local observational humour, songs songs songs and dance.
The mood is all over the shop. The audience howls with laughter at the sexiest clown in the world one moment, then falls silent the next as our hostess with the mostest draws on real emotion with which to caress our ears and touch our hearts. Likewise it's a marvel to watch her do gangly-bendy awkwardness in one sequence, then do graceful elegance a short time later.
The songs are a mixture of old and original works from Cole Porter, Serge Gainsbourg, Richard Wagner, Noel Coward, Megan Washington, Rob Snarski & Dan Luscombe, The Magnetic Fields Patty Griffin, Laurie Anderson and long time collaborators Meow Meow & Iain Grandage.
And strange it was to see Meow Meow share the stage with a romantic lead man Mitchell Butel. Some excellent visuals of set and lighting to complement the music, songs and shouting.
Whether the whole thing hangs together 100% is dependent on personal taste. The Noel Coward segment didn't do it for me so much but others loved it. Post-show, I was admiring the way Meow Meow has the ability to totally flip the mood of the room on its head, but someone I was with wasn't so into this.
However, whether you go along for Meow's manic and comically domineering audience interaction (“Come up into the sacred space darling... schnell! Schnell! I find it's more effective to shout at them in German.”) or to hear her gorgeous rendition of, say, Laurie Anderson's weirdly funny but ultimately melancholic The Dream Before (Miss Meow earned my thousand schnells of adoration with this track alone), do go along. As Meow Meow would say, “Make an effort!”
Off topic: Food at The Malthouse... I'm not sure what goes on in that kitchen but the chefs seem to spend an awful lot of time talking loudly about croissants. Clearly, however, they are doing something right; quite an impressive pre-show dinner crowd.
Malthouse Theatre presents
Little Match Girl
Created & Performed by Meow Meow
Directed by Marion Potts
Venue: Merlyn Theatre | 113 Sturt Street, Southbank
Dates: November 11 - December 4, 2011
Tickets: $26 – $58
Bookings: 03 9685 5111