Watching Pandemonium, Erin Hutchinson is mesmerised by cabaret diva Meow Meow’s stage presence and controlled chaos.
Review: Perth Festival, Meow Meow’s Pandemonium ·
Perth Concert Hall, 20 February 2020 ·
Review by Erin Hutchinson ·
Inspired by Weimar Cabaret, a style known for its decadence, hedonism and politicism, Meow Meow (Australia’s Melissa Madden Gray) enchants the audience from her entertaining entrance to her final strut through the auditorium.
The self-proclaimed post-postmodern diva is truly a connoisseur of spectacle, with an understanding of cabaret that goes deeper than her costumed frilly knickers, and in Pandemonium she shows just how far she can (literally) strip it back to be “all about the music”.
And the music is phenomenal. Supported by the luxurious sounds of the West Australian Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of our festival director, Iain Grandage, Meow Meow’s songs of love and loss become somehow even more heart wrenching or rousing. With selections from French, German and Italian repertoire, from the classics of the 1920s cabaret culture to unique takes on contemporary tunes (Radiohead, anyone?), Meow Meow uses the full range of her voice to belt, beat and mesmerise.
Unfortunately, in this show, the brilliance of the music is affected by poor sound balance. The orchestra was outstanding, and Thomas Lauderdale (of Pink Martini fame) is a wizard on the piano, but in the bigger numbers Meow Meow’s formidable voice was lost under some odd reverb on the mic. Mostly forgivable, but being unable to understand the lyrics when they are potentially political (and sung in English) was unfortunate, and Perth Concert Hall should be better.
Luckily, Meow Meow’s stage presence and well-controlled chaos were more than enough – belying her earlier statement about the music taking centre stage. From awkwardly stripping off her gold-sequinned dress (thank you, arts budget cuts), to bringing her own atmosphere in the form of a hand-held smoke machine, to gender subverting the familiar kick-line, Meow Meow throws herself into offering up the “epic [inappropriate] intimacy” that she promised. It was definitely delivered.
The energy in her delivery of Jacques Brel’s Ne Me Quitte Pas – complete with volunteer human props – was delightful, setting up the collision of music and madness for the evening. The balance of light and dark throughout the show was superbly planned, from rousing laughter to moments when you could hear a pin drop.
Meow Meow makes a clear comment on consent and quietly addresses romantic expectation, particularly relevant given current events. A standout, seriously laugh-out-loud, tongue-in-cheek moment had to be the “avant garde” performance of the orchestra, though the creative use of a revolve stage has to be a close second.
Meow Meow’s Pandemonium is a hands-on experience for some, a good-humoured stint for most and a touching time for many. And while she failed (deliberately) to convert us all to communism – though the kick line was impressive – the audience was more than willing to follow her out to the CD sales stand for some more up close and personal moments.
Pictured top: Cabaret diva Meow Meow gives it all she’s got in her Perth Festival show, ‘Pandemonium’. Photo: Jess Wyld