It was a somewhat serious Meow Meow who spoke to the Star Observer during rehearsals for her upcoming reimagining of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairytale The Little Match Girl.
Perhaps appropriate given the sombre tone of the story about the dying hopes and dreams of a 19th century poverty-stricken youth, it’s nonetheless unbalancing when her reputation for full character conversation and outrageous interview banter precede her.
It was enough to wonder whether Australia’s favourite cabaret diva had been spayed.
But Meow Meow has always been one to catch you off-guard. Her audiences have found that out the hard way in the last few years, as she dominated every meaningful international cabaret venue and arts festival with her provocative works.
This time she’s teamed up with Malthouse Theatre’s artistic director Marion Potts, musical director Iain Grandage and singer/songwriter Megan Washington (aka Washington) to help her put her kamikaze cabaret stamp on Andersen’s bittersweet fable.
“The story is often billed as a fairytale, but really it’s a social drama or reality tale,” she explained.
“From the very beginning of the show it’s the night of 1000 match girls rather than just the one of European 1845 poverty.”
Weaving tragic heroines like Saint Lucy and Saint Joan into her tale, Meow also spoke of being influenced by a documentary about the Salvation Army’s dealings with homeless children.
“It’s not just a story that’s relevant in children’s books at Christmas time, we have little match girls on our streets every night,” she said.
“It takes a brave person to deal with that. How do you deal with kids who are off their heads on ice?”
Salvos and crystal meth-addicted street kids? We really could be about to see a black cat on the Merlyn stage.
When asked whether this was a slightly more melancholy direction for a performer who, while never failing to make audiences think, has mostly done so with a fusion of humour and tragedy in the same moment, she assured this was business as usual.
“There has to be meaning to what I’m doing and so I’m always playing with sexual politics and performance politics — that’s why I’ll sing a political song while doing the splits,” she said.
At its core, the story of the Little Match Girl, and certainly Meow’s adaptation, is teaming with queerness — something not lost on a performer who admits that the gays love her and she has “always loved the gays”.
“Well, talk about no strangers to exile. Working in the States a lot, you meet people in New York who are absolutely in exile and make a radical break from their families and communities,” she said.
“I often forget about that here in Australia. I mean, everyone has their battles, but there doesn’t seem to be a massive amount of that right-wing, terrifying punishment doctrine here.
“When I’m in the States I think, lord, all these people searching for community, which is what Little Match Girl is about — it’s about exile and rejection.”
Fans of Meow’s unpredictable audience interaction can expect more of the same despite this being a more structured piece than some of her other outings.
“I can’t resist crashing through the fourth wall, it’s so long gone in my history, it’d be hard to rebuild at this point,” she admitted.
“I do like to use the whole space. We’re all sitting in it, so let’s just see what happens.”
It’s her second more structured production of the year, having been part of London’s West End hit The Umbrellas Of Cherbourg for nearly six months.
Last time she spoke to the Star Observer she described her life as somewhat of a transit lounge, so is this a sign she’s slowing down?
“I’d really only call it psuedo-stablility. Even in London I was ducking off to do quick shows in New York and other places,” she said.
“I have a very strong global network of friendships and it’s important for me to go to Berlin and New York and London year-to-year to make sure those people who are dear to my heart are in my life.”
With friends like Justin V Bond, Lance Horne, Taylor Mac and Amanda Palmer, it’s no surprise their international reunions are high in importance to their Australian peer.
From the way she recounts their adventures, one imagines their get-togethers resemble the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party.
“Justin, Taylor, Lance and I were in Manchester for Queer Up North and at one point they just said, ‘Shall we take just you up the mountain and get you pregnant?’ Can you imagine what that child would be?” she said.
INFO: The Little Match Girl is at the Malthouse’s Merlyn Theatre November 11 – December 4 and Sydney Festival’s Famous Spiegeltent January 5-29. Bookings: www.malthousetheatre.com.au