“There’s always apocalyptic themes in my writing. I can’t help it. I think we’re on the brink of destruction all the time” Meow Meow said with a giggle.
It’s hard to convey through text how utterly charming it is to hear Meow Meow – performer, creator, self-described “post-post-modern-diva”- say such incredibly bleak things. Her work often balances the seductive and the repellent, the glitter and the dark of life. So it makes a perfect kind of sense that her new show, Apocalypse Meow: Crisis Is Born, should be a celebration of Christmas, a holiday that encapsulates the best and worst of humanity. She chatted to me about the show, the holiday and cabaret, all while elegantly freezing in a rehearsal tutu.
Brydie Lee Kennedy: Thanks for taking a break from rehearsal, it sounds like it’s pretty busy in there.
Meow Meow: Well, we just got a snow machine.
Brydie Lee Kennedy: That sounds very season-appropriate. What elements of the season are you drawing on for this show? Does Christmas generally hold much significance for you?
Meow Meow: Oh, Christmas does. I think whatever your religious beliefs it’s sort of impossible not to in some way have your heart touched at Christmas. As well as the madness and being overwhelmed by the horrendous commercialism of it, there’s still a way in which people are wanting to be awakened, to somehow have a return to childhood, perhaps, when we had more faith in the world. I still feel that I’m much more open to having my heart melted at this time of year.
Brydie Lee Kennedy: You mention returning to childhood and of course this is a time of year with a lot of focus on family. This show has a 14+ age limit, so it’s likely you’ll get some teens in your audience. Do you think it’s important for young people to be exposed to alternative forms of entertainment?
Meow Meow: Definitely. We put an age limit on it so that people are mindful and parents think about it before they bring their kids to the theatre. But I’ve been exposed to radical theatre all my life and I think it’s super important for children.
What’s so thrilling is you’ve got flesh and blood in the space and anything might happen- that’s what’s so exciting about live theatre. I think it’s very important for children to be in that place of fantasy that isn’t a TV screen and isn’t a machine of mass communication. I want it to be exciting and at Christmas, tender as well.
Some of my greatest fans are 5 year olds. It all depends on the individual little person watching you. I remember worrying the first time that David Bates’ daughter saw me perform- she was about 4 and he used to run the Speigeltent. I asked “Is she going to be frightened of me? I’m such a large personage”. And I walked off stage and I had this beautiful blue sparkly costume on and I thought “I don’t want to scare you my darling”. And she said “Oh! It’s a mermaid!” That’s what she saw. Shimmery beauty. She’s a child of the circus and of fantasy and I think that’s important for children.
Theatre continues that child’s play for adults as well. I saw completely radical feminist performance art and opera and everything when I was little. I never made the distinction between high and low art.
Brydie Lee Kennedy: The blurring of high and low art can be considered a trademark of cabaret but do you call what you do cabaret? Or is that label not broad enough for you?
Meow Meow: I say performer, actually. I think cabaret is right when I’m doing pieces from the cabaret repertoire or the Weimar period. But I do massive pieces with orchestras- like the London Philharmonic last year with The Threepenny Opera– and I just did a theatre season in the States which we hope will go to broadway.
I guess what I like about the cabaret form in a larger sense is that it’s got agitation and politics and entertainment. It mixes all of those. It’s something to me that denotes flexibility in performance where you can really respond in the moment to what’s happening. You’re not always stuck to a particular narrative or 4th wall sensation. So for that reason, I love it. I like to assault the senses in as many ways as possible. I think cabaret is a quick term but I use it in the broader sense of agitational entertainment.
Brydie Lee Kennedy: That’s such a gorgeous definition. I’ll let you get back to rehearsing now but just finally, talk to me a little more about Apocalypse Meow and how you’re blending the darkness of these apocalyptic themes with the brightness of Christmas.
Meow Meow: You’re constantly grappling as an artist with what your role is and what your social responsibility is and where you’re most useful. I think you’re sort of searching to make meaning of the world and sing hearing into it or sing thinking into it or reflect the complexities of human emotion. But this is a fairly gorgeous Christmas cabaret. It’s in a little wooden box and it’s gorgeous, not unlike a stable I might say. There’s beautiful Christmas joy but there is also a strong call for hope, which is at the base of the Christmas story. Whatever your beliefs are, with the birth of a baby there is some hope of potential for purity and innocence and a change. Something that is the end of one world and the beginning of another. But I’m frightened of the world, so of course that creeps into the show.
Brydie Lee Kennedy: Well, I don’t think that fear and hope have to be mutually exclusive.
Meow Meow: No, that’s right. And that’s the bit that I think we all still respond to even though we’re saturated with the kitsch-ery of Christmas.There is the undeniable, visceral nature of childbirth. The incredible miracle of a baby surviving. It’s nature. It’s an extraordinary thing and it happens every day. That’s sort of what I grab onto. It’s a complicated time, Christmas, isn’t it? It’s hellish and beautiful so I’m just trying to get the beauty bit back.
Apocalypse Meow: Crisis is Born is at the Southbank Centre, London, from 16th – 29th December 2014