REVIEW: Meow Meow’s Little Mermaid @ PIAF

Words by: Samuel Herriman

Meow Meow’s tour de force, cabaret inspired, feminist subversion of Hans Christian Anderson’s fairytale The Little Mermaid is chockfull of complex, interesting ideas, pseudo-Cirque du Soleil stunts, comedic monologues, beautiful songs, dramatic staging and vibrant music, all in the space of 70 minutes. I wanted it to be better. It’s very good, but I wanted it to be better.

It’s rare that a performance is good enough that you wish it held together a bit tighter, or spread its wealth of talents a bit wider. Instead of leaving the theatre ecstatic with the feeling of seeing something unifying and transcendent, I left with the somewhat paradoxical feeling of enjoying all the individual parts without finding satisfaction in the eventual whole.

There’s a lot to like from the intensely charismatic Meow Meow, starting with her selection of songs, many of which are original compositions from internationally renowned artists, including Amanda Palmer, Megan Washington, Kate Miller-Heidke and Iain Grandage. Meow Meow both croons lovelorn lyrics with a dusky, sultry intimacy reminiscent of Liza Minelli, and belts pop-infused anthems with an undeniable star power. Minelli is a clear influence, particularly in the extended conversations with herself (and the audience), which were strikingly similar to Minelli’s turn as Sally Bowles in Cabaret.

The Little Mermaid barely qualifies as a framing device but rather acts more as a very loose metaphor, with twee winks to the story scattered through Meow Meow’s ruminations and lamentations on love. It’s a surprisingly vulnerable and emotionally raw show (for someone who refers to herself as Meow Meow) and some brief passages are genuinely effecting, before Meow Meow releases the tension with a physical comedy or well-timed joke. The show wisely never forgets that it’s a comedy.

The welcome injection of Chris Ryan halfway through the show as a foil for Meow Meow’s exuberance gives the show propulsion and lends the final act some heft. Ryan and Meow Meow’s duet of the French song ‘Paroles Paroles’ was a clear highlight, as was the final repartee between Ryan’s electrician character and Meow Meow (seemingly out of character). Also of note was the opening performance, a cover of ‘Wonderful Life’ by Black, and a dancing duet between Meow Meow and an animatronic rock.

This is an impressive, startling and thoughtful show. Meow Meow is a responsive and personable performer who is able to milk every last emotion from every song and every line of dialogue. It’s eclectic, clever, witty and charming but it just doesn’t connect together as well as I desperately wanted it to. But, for a series of disparately entertaining set pieces it was a thrilling night of theatre.

Meow Meow’s Little Mermaid will be showing at the Octagon Theatre at UWA until Sunday, 28 of February 2016.