I wonder how Meow Meow (alter ego of Australian singer/actress/performance artist Melissa Madden Gray) rehearses her exhilarating, chaotic and somewhat terrifying ‘kamikaze cabaret’ as so much of it depends on audience participation. Meow Meow isn’t a cabaret performer who gushes about how much she loves her audience – she pops up in the dress circle in a terrible state: the chorus boys have been held up in customs, she hasn’t warmed up and she has a broken heart. She’s really too distraught to perform, but has been forced on stage by the management.
Like many felines, Meow Meow is something of a tyrant; she’s desperate for attention and is constantly frisking around the auditorium. She resembles Liza Minnelli, but also has something of the zany, plummy schoolgirl quality of the stage Sally Bowles. She barks at the audience to throw flowers at her, get her dressed and undressed, and lift her around the auditorium (something everyone gets a go at) and yet she’s lovable enough for her audience and her three-piece band (led by composer Lance Horne) to be happy to indulge these demands. One can only marvel at her nerve. I found myself as part of a chorus line of high-kicking Barbie dolls (thankfully in a large group in front of the stage, rather than on it). It’s fortunate that her two main gentlemen ‘volunteers’ were accompanied as any photos taken could appear very compromising indeed.
Her comic prowess and extraordinary legs are matched by her remarkable voice that’s like rich dark chocolate (probably with a touch of something stronger) with a repertoire that includes Kurt Weill, Jacques Brel and modern pop numbers. Hardly any are sung all the way through, being interspersed with comic asides and banter, particularly from the homespun spectacle that includes a manual revolve and a handheld spotlight – showgirl on a shoestring.
Rapturous applause and a standing ovation ought to overturn any assumptions about British reserve. It seems woefully inadequate to label Meow Meow merely as a ‘femme fatale’ or ‘cabaret diva’; she’s a stunningly versatile theatrical creature who defies any kind of pigeonholing. As lovely as it would be to hear her sing uninterrupted (a concert dedicated to works from the Weimar Republic would be particularly blissful), this is a whirlwind of activity and explosion of talent that is an experience in every sense of the word.