Brighton Festival 2017
The hysterically historically inaccurate tale of the Theatre Royal’s performers and patrons over the past 200 years recounted through song and comic asides performed by one of neo-cabert’s shining lights.
Meow Meow turned up late for her own show. Bedecked in a glittering ballgown, tangled in a raggedy trail and with her trademark tousled black bob, she staggered through the audience, climbing over them, and greeting strangers like long lost friends (participation is a key element), before clambering on stage like a bedraggled Liz Taylor or Joan Collins.
Meow Meow’s “kamikaze cabaret” style means that, like her narcotic namesake, she promises great times that invariably end up as a bit of a disaster, and therein lies her charm. An undoubtedly talented singer, songwriter and actress, her comedy asides in-between the songs showed that, even with the newest of material, she is a charming and confident raconteur.
This unique and specially created show for the Brighton Festival focused on the alleged history of Brighton’s Theatre Royal with a 9-song cycle about the performers, characters and ghosts who inhabited the building. From Sarah Bernhardt’s broken leg and children of the local workhouse to the Teutonic and ill-fated “King of the Jugglers”, there was an element of sublime melancholy to the tales and songs, combined with a sense of history haunting the stage. A mixture of original and cover songs like “You Know That It’s True”, “The Honeysuckle and the Bee” were enhanced by musical accompaniment from the Orchester der Kleinen Regiment and the Lilliputian Octet.
Possibly the most effective section was when Meow Meow discussed the infamous Franklin expedition, that disappeared in the North West Passage, and how the crew stoically faced with death in the song, “At the Edge of the World.” But the humour remains strong throughout, with silly interludes including a Burlesque parody.
There are obvious parallels with the contemporary neo-cabaret scene acts like Amanda Palmer, The Dresden Dolls and the Tiger Lilies – all of whom hark back to the heady Weimar Republic days of the 1920s – But Meow Meow comes across more as a Shirley Bassey gene-spliced with Nick Cave, by way of a dipsomaniacal Judy Garland, all served with a clown chaser.
The set dressing was minimalist but very effective, as was the lighting, and despite the (deliberate) gaffs the show maintained a suitably ethereal atmosphere.
Possibly best seen late at night after a few drinks with a raucous crowd rather than the more genteel matinee audience we accompanied, the show was nevertheless an entertaining oddity of delights.