30 September 2008


Malthouse Theatre and Sydney Opera House
6 September 2008
CUB Malthouse, Merlyn Theatre

What a time for cabaret in this town! The ever-wonderful Burlesque Hour is still running, The Tiger Lillies were scary and wonderful, and now Meow Meow returns to her hometown in Vamp.

David Bowie describes Meow Meow as one of “certain artists you just never miss.” I’m kinda chuffed that have a conversation starter for the time I meet Dave, as I also believe that Meow should never be missed.

Meow has pounced, hissed, purred and sold out in the Spiegeltent; she’s performed at more international festivals than I can list; she’s better known in Shanghai, New York and various European capitals than her hometown; and collaborated with the likes of the Dresden Dolls and John Cameron Mitchell (Hedwig and the Angry Inch).

Vamp was commissioned by Malthouse Theatre and Sydney Opera House, so Meow could work with local wonders including Iain Grandage (composition), Michael Kantor (direction), Anna Tregloan (design), Shaun Parker (choreography) and Paul Jackson (lighting). While Vamp is every moment Meow’s show, the depth and completeness of the piece come from the collaboration.

Vamp was inspired by by Wilde’s Salome. Meow describes it as the “dual empowerment and disempowerment of the body and its sensual or ridiculous dance”. She understands the ridiculousness, but continues to participate and craves the attention. She lets us see that the wild and sexy goddess is really just a bored and lonely woman in a skin coloured body suit and some stick on pasties, but she continues to be amazed at her own stage beauty. This vamp knows how absurd she is, but wants to believe the image. She alternatively criticises her audience, but forces some to hold her close (literally) and help create the facade. To the audience participation men – what was so difficult about the “shape of a swastika” request?

Meow herself is a parody of a parody that takes us so uncomfortably close to the truth that laughter is the only possible release. Perhaps we will all get our ’15 Minutes of Femme’ one day - but do we want it?

The memorable, the incredible and the best stage characters have an independent life, far removed from their creators, while their creators are so much more than their one character. As Dame Edna is to Barry Humphries, Meow Meow is to Melissa Madden Gray.

Gray could grace any musical theatre, opera or dance stage in the world, while earning a fine living from singing on morning chat shows and posing for women’s magazine lifestyle features. We (David Bowie and me) are so grateful that she has chosen a path that is far more dangerous and extraordinary. She creates on the edge, takes risks and chooses creative and original over safe and predictable.

Gray’s outstanding technique, skill, passion and determination clearly support Meow, but Meow is far too self-centred to let Gray share her limelight. Gray doesn’t even get a mention in the program, and Meow herself drinks fizzy wine at the after show party.

Early in the show, Meow tells the audience “You may not be moved, but you will be touched.” This performance touches you and stays with you. Meow is tantalising, seductive and very bendy, but arouses our latent intelligence. Vamp is the real deal. Don’t regret missing it.
This review originally appeared on AussieTheatre.com.

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