Apocalypse Meow: Crisis Is Born ★★★½
Meow Meow, Malthouse Theatre, until December 1
The stage may look like a construction site, but Meow Meow’s latest show is almost a deconstruction of a Christmas special.
We would expect nothing less from the Australian-born, New York-based cabaret star, whose take on fairytales – she has performed cabaret inspired by The Little Mermaid and The Little Match Girl – insists on cracking the shell of fake sweetness around them and setting the darkness free.
Apocalypse Meow does something similar for the fakest, sweetest, most capitalist festival of them all. And if it sometimes takes a satirical sledgehammer to Christmas, it’s only to comb through the ruins to pick out what, if anything, might be worth tentative celebration.
The fallen diva makes quite an entrance, stumbling through the aisles burdened with a heavy gold lamé womb, desperately seeking a venue and finding no room at the inn.
Her parodic stab at the nativity achieves supreme silliness: no messiah pops out, just inflatable animals to crowd around a Pret A Manger sign.
Everything goes wrong, but the show must go on. When her illustrious special guests all cancel, Meow Meow grabs some pesky orphans carolling outside (Annie Jones, Dusty Bursill, Charlotte Barnard, Riya Mandrawa) to fill in, only to have them upstage her.
Yuletide cliches lurk offstage: flurries of fake snow, a nightmare visitation from Santa Claus, the sound of children. In the spotlight, Meow Meow’s seat-of-the-pants shtick devolves, as disaster continues to strike, into pill-popping hedonism and an encounter with a doppelganger (Michaela Burger) that works in a Scrooge-like revelation.
Finally, a poignant reveal dismantles artifice, reminds us of the reverent joy in traditional Christmas carols, and touches the soul with a rendition of Patty Griffin’s Kite Song, sung with a fragile optimism that lingers in the air as you depart.
You might wish there were more songs, though, and less shtick. The comedy eventually scrabbles its way towards the sublime but can sometimes feel like filler, while Meow Meow’s dark and honeyed voice has always possessed a commanding quality capable of instantly bewitching an auditorium. As chanteuse, she performs in at least four languages, backed (and sometimes comically rivalled) by a versatile three-piece band. It is worth the price of admission just to hear her sing.