Meow Meow, aka Melissa Madden Gray, Australian-born actress, dancer and cabaret performer, has brought her new show from Malthouse Theatre “The Little Mermaid” to The Edinburgh International Festival .
If you have in your mind the unavoidable “Disney” world of “The Little Mermaid” then be prepared to forget it as soon as you enter this splendidly decked out performance space at “The Hub” that has been turned into a magical mixture of underwater wonder world and cabaret bar. The Little Mermaid is a big budget stage show to be touring with and the set itself requires its own mention as there are a lot of technical elements to it. On the surface, this show might look chaotic and improvised (there are obviously some improvised elements), but this is a precision work of theatre with everything meticulously planned and prepared in advance. Meow Meow has created here with director Michael Kantor, musical director Jethro Woodward and comedy director Cal McCrystal a wonderful fantasy world with tightly scripted dialogue that merges seamlessly with music and lyrics as we jump into the murky waters of Meow Meow’s own subconscious as she explores her search for the true meaning of love and her failure to date to find it or even the right person to contemplate sharing that gift with.
As we swim deeper and deeper into Meow Meow’s thoughts and sub conscious memories, our world takes on a mixture of the darker world of all original fairy tale sources (this one by Hans Christian Andersen in 1836) and an almost psychedelic world of fantasy reminiscent in part of The Beatles’ The Yellow Submarine film. There is at times too an almost Victorian vaudeville feel to this production with its many double entendres and suggestive but never explicit sexual references.
Meow Meow’s script here is tight and very, very sharp as she examines not only herself but the role of strong women in society and the difficulty that many people still seem to have in dealing with strong and independent women.
Stripping the comedy away (which I am happy to do), this show leaves at its core one outstanding performance artist with an incredible voice and the instinctive ability to engage with her audience at every level. I would love to see Meow Meow return to Edinburgh one day with a show stripped of comedy elements like this one though and just concentrating on that amazing voice and delivery. Meow Meow is one of the 21st century’s torch bearers of the world of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill, of “Chansons Francaises” and the spirit of “dangerous cabaret”.
Review by Tom King