Concert Hall, Sydney Opera House
January 22, 2018

Meow Meow, the cabaret superstar, chanteuse and all-round good time girl, made her grand entrance not from the wings but by popping up in a box to clamber over delighted viewers in the stalls. Barking out orders in hard-to-refuse German, several audience members (all very game gentlemen) were enlisted to stroke her legs as she crooned, form a chair for her to perch on, and divest her of her garments, before being told to do the splits. “Do I have to do everything myself?” she demanded.

Meow Meow Meow. Photograph © Prudence Upton

Joined by the Sydney Symphony Orchestra under conductor Iain Grandage for her new show Pandemonium, Meow Meow brought just that as she pranced about the stage looking for a glass of wine, some ‘atmosphere’ (which she produced in the form of a handheld fog machine), and her lost dancing boys, who turned up in the end in a fabulous feather and sequins dance number. She played the role of stroppy, needy, pill-popping diva to the hilt, sashaying on and off stage in flapper dress and stockings.

But there was no hint of strain or struggle when it came to delivering the songs – a barnstorming delivery of Piazzolla’s Rinasceró was followed by a delicious Ne me quitte pas. Spoliansky’s Ich bin ein Vamp saw her instruct three valiant audience members to “get me into a swastika by the end of the song”, inducing howls of laughter when they couldn’t quite figure out how to fulfil her command (they worked it out in the end). Amanda Palmer’s unsettling Missed Me and Radiohead’s Fake Plastic Trees were clever inclusions, both bringing out the best in Meow Meow. Songs she co-wrote with Grandage – In This City and Tear Down the Stars – were beautifully delivered and finely accompanied by the SSO, who had ample opportunity to shine even on this stage.

Photograph © Prudence Upton

Towards the end of the second act, when the diva was succumbing to an episode of self-doubt and giving it large with Skeeter Davis’ The End of the World, an identically dressed Meow Meow in the form of Kanen Breen joined in and clambered over the audience before leaping up onstage. What happened next was ten minutes of pure, unadulterated zaniness. “Who are you?” Meow Meow asked. “I’m you, but taller and thinner”, Breen replied. A mannequin and blow up dolls were wheeled onstage, repeatedly getting caught on roses (that our chanteuse had given the front row to shower her with) and hampering what must have been carefully plotted stagecraft – Meow Meow even took a little tumble at one point: “seamless” she commented drolly at the conclusion of the routine, tipping the audience into hysterics.

In a show as well conceived and as madcap as this one, it feels churlish to designate anything as a highlight. But when the hall went dark during a gorgeous delivery of Patty Griffin’s Be Careful, with Meow Meow lit by the flashlight of her iPhone, you’d be hard pressed to call it anything else.

Meow Meow’s Pandemonium has one more show tonight, January 23

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