Rain drums down on the roof of the Spiegeltent known, for reasons unclear, as the London Wonderground. It feels appropriate. The divinely polyglottal Australian cabaret sensation Meow Meow has already been reduced to ‘camping’ under the Hungerford Bridge, everything seems to be conspiring against her innate fabulousness, so an assault by the British weather seems fitting. Divested of her glittery dress, there’s a tenuous sense of trying to create a more stripped back style of performance here – following collaborations with Kneehigh on The Umbrellas of Cherbourg and an ambitious Southbank residency with The Little Match Girl – pawing at the line between audience and performer. It doesn’t quite come off. But what we get instead is a sprawling and often vastly entertaining evening of magnificently marshalled chaos.
Her voice is wonderfully versatile, purring but also powerful, her comic timing spot-on, her choice of songs (including some of her own composition) inspired, and in between numbers she continues to unpick the whole diva shtick, as is her wont, unravelling cabaret tropes like so much yarn while employing audience members to light her, to dress her, even to carry her aloft. She frequently breaks off to chastise the crowd for not showing sufficient adoration and is obliged to hand out flowers to ensure she gets the floral tributes she feels she deserves.
In short bursts on a mixed bill this approach works a treat, and can often feel genuinely unpredictable and thrilling, but stretched out over an hour and a half there are moments when it can start to feel a bit repetitive. The show itself is, however, a delicious thing, with Meow Meow deftly mixing songs by The Dresden Dolls (the brilliant Missed Me) and Fiona Apple with more leftfield material.
She knows how to work a room (or indeed a tent). She can shift moods in the twitch of a whisker, moving from the broad comedy of the obligatory burlesque interlude, which sees her cavorting around the place in a pair of crimson knickers, to deliver a soaring rendition of Radiohead’s Fake Plastic Trees (a true high point of the night) before raising the canvas roof further still with an inspired version of Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini sung in a number of languages, including Chinese.
When she throws herself bodily at the audience, getting them to bear her to the bar and back again, it’s wonderfully unifying and uplifting (literally) but the show suffers a little for being too long, and as magnetic a performer as she is, there are inevitable lulls. She’s capable of properly wrenching torch song moments, as her closing rendition of Patty Griffin’s Be Careful shows, but the show as a whole does feel as if it would be that bit stronger with a judicious trim.