Thursday, 27 October 2016


I’M waiting in a rather swanky central London hotel for an interview with one of the world’s most glamorous cabaret performers when I get an email saying she’s been held up.
In rather dramatic style Meow Meow reveals she’s got a “contact lens stuck in my eye issue” and has made an emergency dash to the optometrist.
When she does arrive she is profuse in her apologies.
“I’m so sorry I’m so late!” she says. “My life is full of drama but not like this! Normally it’s about procuring dancing boys for a show or getting a designer to come in from New York - they are all pleasurable big dramas. I’m so sorry.”
Fortunately the optometrist has sorted the issue out and Meow Meow can see once more without irritation.
“I haven’t been wearing contact lenses that long,” she explains. “I’ve always had good eyesight but it was when I was at the Globe this summer I looked out and realised that I couldn’t quite see to the back of the theatre.
“Part of the beauty of the Globe is that you see the audience - so I thought I should maybe do something.
“I got reading glasses but there is one scene where as Titania I am lying down on my flowery bed and then realised I’d twisted them into a ridiculous shape! Then I got some which were the wrong prescription…
“When I finally got the contact lenses I could see properly and it was a revelation in many ways - Oberon said I was on fire!
“So it’s all been quite dramatic.”
Meow Meow has made a career out of drama in the theatrical sense of course. Born in Australia she is the alter ego of Melissa Madden Gray - “although I’ve always been Meow” she purrs - a dancer, chanteuse and cabaret artiste and as well as being a trained ballet dancer and operatic singer, has degrees in Law, German and Fine Art.
She’s performed her own unique brand of “kamikaze cabaret” all over the world. Her shows are characterised by their seemingly chaotic set up but are in fact all carefully orchestrated and choreographed. 
It is all part of her “act” that she staggers in late, not quite dressed or ready for the show, chatting to the audience and asking some to help her sort her dress or shoes out. It helps to bind her with the audience and it does so beautifully.
And when she sings her vocal range and style is superb - funny, sad, fragile, tender and raucous - she can hold an audience in the palm of her hand, entranced and enthralled, such is her command of the stage.
During her career has collaborated with the likes of the Von Trapp family, Pina Bausch, David Bowie, Mikhail Baryshnikov and most recently Barry Humphries with whom she’s just finished touring the Weimar Cabaret show alongside the Australian Chamber Orchestra.
She is ultra glam of course, gesticulating gracefully throughout our interview to make her points, all twinkling green eyes encircled with kohl eyeliner and luscious long black lashes, gazing from underneath that glorious mass of black curls.
I half expected her to arrive at the interview in full glamorous mode in a fabulous ballgown and her trademark killer heels. Sadly she didn’t which is a shame as it might have brought some added glitz and sparkle to the rather stately surroundings.
Nonetheless she arrives breathless but with eyesight intact and flops onto the chair in a rather dramatic fashion, beaming smile and ordering coffee from the waitress who’s been hovering discreetly.
She may have been flustered but without skipping a beat Meow Meow tells me about how she’s just arrived in London from Oxford after having done a show with Pink Martini.
“I opened my suitcase and out pops a pink tutu, an inflatable doll and a smoke machine,” she laughs. “That’s my normal life, it’s pretty hilarious!
“Pink Martini are great. I did a show with them in Oxford and the Royal Albert Hall before that and they are brilliant musicians.”
And then it’s on to talking about the concert that she is performing in on Tuesday of next week.
Aptly entitled Pandemonium it takes place at the Royal Festival Hall, and features Meow Meow alongside the London Philharmonic Orchestra, pianist Thomas Lauderdale and a trio of musicians from Pink Martini.
It’s a venue she’s performed at before and loves and with her green eyes twinkling at full force she tells me it’s going to be almost celebratory in nature because she will be surrounded by some of her “absolute best friends”.
But whether it will live up to its title is anyone’s guess - not least her own as she freely admits that during one of Meow Meow’s shows, anything can and does happen.
And this includes crowd surfing in which she launches herself - gracefully of course - into the audience still singing and in all her finery, and hopes that someone will catch her.
“I’m not sure about that,” she muses. “I don’t want to give too much away but it could happen - anything could happen of course, even at the Royal Festival Hall, so I might be compelled! 
“When I started doing the crowd surfing I wanted to see what peoples’ reactions would be, would they hold me up or let me fall? 
“It was a ridiculous, joyful and comic thing to do particularly in a ballgown, the thought of who would catch me.
“It seemed to work and people were quick to support me. Sometimes I do get stranded but it does force people to be active. 
“But now, although I would prefer that they don’t video during the concert, people do and so it’s a question of whether they will watch me fall through their iPads or whether they put them down to support me.
“I find it very interesting that whole idea of living through your screen, and watching a concert through a screen even if you are right there in the audience. I understand wanting to remember it forever but I do find it an alienating experience. I’m real, not on TV!
“The show on Tuesday will be completely ridiculous and beautiful,” she adds. “It will be joyful but I can never dictate what happens and anything could. 
“There will be a real mix of music, from the sublime to the satirical. All my shows feature a variety of song styles. I’m drawn very much to foreign music and love Brecht and Weil so there will be some of that. There will be tangos and boss and chansons. But I’ve also written some new material too which I’m very excited about.
“Some of the songs will be full of passion, some funny or tragic and some political but all the songs will have their own mini journeys.
“The LPO is exquisite and I’m with some super duper musicians which is really special. In fact this show is a real celebration because I’m with some dear friends.
“Thomas Lauderdale is so special to me and we have been friends for about 10 years. A mutual friend introduced us and told me I would ‘fall in art love’ with him and I did, as soon as I met him. It’s a real friendship. We start writing together and it’s magical.”
As well as Thomas, she’s brought in her designer, the Pink Martinis and Iain Grandage who will be conducting and says it promises to be a wonderful occasion.
She is delightful company and throughout our long chat regales me with stories about her career, how you never know what’s round the corner or what relationships you can make with people, her collaborations, the deconstruction of sexuality in her work and tells me about her passion for music and how it “feeds the soul”.
“I do think if we could get children excited about music and dance we would be in a much better situation,” she says. 
“We need to get their passion early. There is so much going on in the world at the moment and yet music has the power to bring joy.
“I love touring and travelling, it’s what I’ve done for so long and it’s me. My concerts are always super fun but I do worry about the world especially at a time of Trump and lurching towards conservatism and shutting down of diversity. 
“So I’m obsessed with live music where people come together and have an ecstatic experience.”
And this year has been a busy year for her too. She has just completed her Weimar songbook tour with Barry Humphries - another dear friend - and has spent most of the summer as Titania in Emma Rice’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Globe.
And it is clear during our chat that not only does she hold Emma in the highest regard but she absolutely loved her time at the Globe and was thrilled to be part of Emma’s first season there.
“Working with Emma was a joy. She’s amazing and I feel very honoured to have been asked to be part of the opening show.
“I would love to come back to play at the Globe - it’s a very special place and Emma a special person. She makes rehearsing such a joy. It’s hard work of course but she has such passion and was absolutely the right choice to take over the Globe.
“It’s such an amazing space and when I first went out on to the stage I burst into tears.”
But it is on stage, whether in a theatre or in a concert hall, that she feels at home.
“I absolutely love it,” she says simply. “The stage is where I’m happiest, most at home, and where I am me.”

Meow Meow’s Pandemonium with the London Philharmonic Orchestra will be at the Royal Festival Hall on Tuesday, November 1. Tickets from £25. Visit or for full listings.

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