Malthouse: Meow Moew’s Little Mermaid

Meow Meow, Australia’s wicked-witted Queen of Cabaret, dunks us deep into the underwater wonderland of her own magical mind in a feminist submersion of Hans Christian Anderson’s 1837 The Little Mermaid.

Little Mermaid. Photo by Prudence Upton
Little Mermaid. Photo by Prudence Upton

Like Anderson’s original tale, Meow Meow’s Little Mermaid centres on themes of identity, love and sacrifice, but does away with antiquated “Once upon a time…”s and crafts a thoroughly contemporary text, richly textured with metatheatrical humour and thoughtful allegory for the modern pursuit of love.

Meow Meow says it’s “a show about happiness”, the lengths that we go to seek it, the sacrifices we make to attain it, and the ways in which the archaic, patriarchal ideals and fictional archetypes around which this search is constructed can so often leave us feeling bereft of our storybook ending, whatever the outcome.

The design is sumptuous, plunging us into the surreal depths of Meow Meow’s psyche. Anna Cordingley’s set and costumes and Paul Jackson’s lighting immerse the audience in the glowing, plush cabaret club of Meow Meow’s subconscious, where her inner monologue is free to literally fly, swim, swing, tumble and crowd surf around the space. With wit and imagination, their creation sees hapless tradies transformed into Danish Princes and fishing nets into aerial swings, while a trapdoor spews forth artefacts of Meow Meow’s memory from the sea floor.

Meow Meow is a master of her art. Her voice and style are evocative of the golden age of German Weimar Kabaret – a raw blend of smokey nightclub glamour and rough-hewn brutalism that knows the unique beauty of a laddered stocking. Meow Meow flirts with the discordant dichotomy of her aesthetic with utter delight, maintaining an air of casual elegance while clumsily duck-stepping about the stage in diving flippers or delivering poetic philosophical monologues that are laden with ham-fisted nautical puns.

Her stage presence is mesmerising as she wrangles her audience with a menacing glee that is only thinly masked by a demeanour of unsettling syrupy sweetness. Vocally, she commands every crest and fall with the control and ease of someone who has spent decades finely tuning their instrument, whilst unapologetically utilising the squeaks, cracks and growls that lend depth and a dimension of vulnerability to an otherwise perfectly polished performance.

With style and imagination Meow Meow takes one of Western culture’s most beloved children’s stories and rewrites it for the complexities of a contemporary audience. The result is powerful, provocative and thoroughly entertaining.

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