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Cabaret siren Meow Meow: 'Emma Rice isn't a destroyer, she’s a celebrator'

Ahead of her evening of ‘Pandemonium’ at the Royal Festival Hall, we chat to Meow Meow about hanging out with orchestras, London life and Emma Rice leaving the Globe (sob)

By Alice Savile

‘Kamikaze cabaret’ star Meow Meow is a familiar face in London: aside from her solo shows, this year she played Titania in Emma Rice’s ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ and sang for Barry Humphries in his ‘Weimar Cabaret show’. Now she’s back with ‘Pandemonium’, a show backed by an orchestra, plus a few thoughts on Rice’s shock departure from the Globe.

You’re performing your show ‘Pandemonium’ with London Philharmonic Orchestra on Tuesday. How open are they to dipping a toe into cabaret?

‘There’s none of the orchestral depression or malaise which I think can happen with these things: their openness to doing this concert is great. My work is such a hybrid of music, theatre and dance because I think you should use everything you’ve got – so when you’ve got an orchestra who’ll really go with you, the sky’s the limit.’ 

You talk about mixing music and theatre: was it a surprise to be asked to play Titania in Emma Rice’s ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’?

‘No, I love Shakespeare and I think music is a very fast way to people’s hearts, so it makes sense to use it with theatre. At the Globe you can feel the wind against your skin, you can hear the reactions of the audience, you can feel the presence of the Thames flowing by. You really do feel that anything could happen, which is what I always say about my regular work, the kamikaze cabaret. You want the audience to feel the vibrancy of living.’

Emma Rice stepped down as artistic director of The Globe this week. Part of the reasoning was over her use of amplified music and lighting…

‘I’m sort of astounded, I think it’s a great shame. I can’t speak to the politics of the decision, I can only really speak to being on stage and feeling the audience’s reactions and seeing people afterwards, weeping, and the joy that exudes from that building. I certainly feel like in “Dream” we were having an absolutely fantastic conversation with the audience, which is all Emma Rice ever wants to do. She’s not a destroyer, she’s a celebrator, and I think the queues around the corner for returns and the huge audiences show that.


© Steve Tanner. Zubin Varla (Oberon) and Meow Meow (Titania) in Midsummer Night's Dream, 2016.

‘I think the prime thing for authenticity is: are people moved? Do they understand it? Are they weeping? Are they whooping? Are they reading? Are they finding out more? So it’s a strange time because I feel that even though Emma’s always been so honest that she’s not an expert in Shakespeare, I think she’s an expert storyteller and an expert in examining the human heart, and if that’s not the essence of Shakespeare I don’t know what is.

‘But what I think is fantastic about all of this is the massive debate it’s triggered about art and who gets to make it and censorship. That’s what I dream of the theatre being, and it’s why I do such a lot of political concerts, because I want there to be discussion.’

You’re from Australia, where there’s been a lot of debate about arts funding being cut. How imperilled is the arts scene over there?

‘I think what’s frightening in Australia is how we’re turning more and more to private philanthropy to provide instruments and music and schools, even though it’s been proven how important it is for a growing brain to have these things, whether or not kids grow up to play in an orchestra.’

Since you spend a lot of time in London, where are your favourite places to hang out?

‘I love Soho Theatre because it’s adventurous, it’s unafraid, and it’s small enough to be intimate and for people to take risks. But all those old buildings – I could just lick the walls! I love the feeling of layers and layers of performer’s sweat and dreams all sort of stuck to the walls. They make me happy. But in terms of going out I’ve been totally teetotal this year, and to be honest you can get a good sparkling water anywhere!’

Meow Meow's Pandemonium’ is on Tuesday November 1 at the Royal Festival Hall. 

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