Meow Meow is an international actress, singer, and dancer. She’s performed her works with The London Philharmonic Orchestra, played Titania in A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Shakespeare’s Globe and toured her own work around the world. She returns to the Edinburgh International Festival for the European Premiere of Meow Meow’s Little Mermaid, a playful cabaret reimagining of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairytale. Features Writer Carly Brown spoke with her about the original fairytale, creating her show and why she likes performing in Edinburgh.
It’s a beautiful thing to be surrounded by my friends on stage, even though they’re not completely there
Tell us about your show.
It’s based on Hans Christian Andersen’s fairytale from 1837 and it follows it very closely. I’ve actually stuck pretty closely to the story, although some people don’t see the resemblance. It also uses that fairytale as a springboard, but then goes more deeply into concepts of salvation, perfection, true love and happiness – all of those things that make the world tick.
What themes from Anderson’s fairytale did you want bring out in this version?
Well Hans Christian Andersen is a very interesting person. He had a lot of issues with development, social anxiety, sexuality – he’s a fascinating person. So there are lots of ways that you could read the original story. A fear of growing up? A fear of adult sexuality? Literally splitting to get two legs – is that a frightening thing or is that a necessary rite of passage? Is the loss of voice a loss of self? Or is it a development to another place?
I think the thing that really struck me about the original was the pain that [the little mermaid] feels with every footstep, the degrees that she goes to, even when there’s no guarantee of true love.
The pain of her walking on land is described as like knives, right?
Yes, so I wanted to heal a little bit of that wounding, I suppose, in this version. But at the same time, I think the show is very contemporary in terms of its images of beauty, romantic love, and happiness. Is it a loss of self to give something up or is it a liberation? Is it abandonment or is it being set free? Those are some of the questions that I’m looking at – but in a world of speed dating!
The ending of the original fairy tale has a tragic, or at least an ambiguous, ending, whereas your version offers up the possibility of happiness for the mermaid at the end. Is that something you wanted the audience to take away from the show?
I think so. I think there’s relentless optimism, but I also try to imbue that last piece with a lot of ambiguity. [The ending] is very open for people and they will project their own reflections of the world on it, whether that is tragic, or comic, or both.
So it retains some of the ambiguity of the original ending?
I think so. Those last lines of Hotel Amor, the song that I wrote with Thomas Lauderdale, are: ‘love is everywhere.’ Sometimes that’s the happiest thing in the word and other times it’s not for me.
Also, why do we always put love on to one person when we have friends around us? When we have community? On stage, I have the songwriters that I worked with – Amanda Palmer, Kate Miller-Heidke, Megan Washington and Thomas [Lauderdale]. They are really good friends of mine. So we’re writing specifically for the show, but at the same time they know me really well. It’s a beautiful thing to be surrounded by my friends on stage, even though they’re not completely there.
The show is like a manifestation of the love and camaraderie of the people who created it.
That’s right, very much. I’m about to do two shows tonight and half the crew is sick. And the band – two of them are sick! It’s just like, ‘Oh, here we go!’ But I want to tell that story, so I guess it’s about presenting as much entertainment and ambiguity for people to enjoy. It’s interesting how people respond to it differently – what they’ll find funny, what they’ll find moving.
It is such an interactive show. Since you’ve performed all over the world, do you ever notice different audience reactions in different environments?
Oh yes, absolutely. Culturally, you sort of shift it depending on where you are. An audience is not a single beast either.
I think The Hub in Edinburgh looks pretty gorgeous. We’ve done the show in a circus tent and in a huge theatre. It works really well in both of those spaces. I think The Hub is sort of somewhere in between. No matter where you are performing, you’ve just got to be as genuine as possible. What I like about Edinburgh audiences is that they’re up for adventure. That’s great. It’s a kind of prerequisite for walking into any show. There’s a great excitement about that month in Edinburgh where everything is happening. There’s an amazing energy in the city.
The theatre itself is quite a big part of the show – you talk onstage about the tech and request certain effects like bubbles. There’s an emphasis on the theatrical space in an almost Brechtian way. Why was that such an important element of Little Mermaid?
Well I’m very influenced by Brecht and I think it’s sort of dishonest to pretend that there isn’t an audience there and that you’re not relating directly to them. I was performing as Titania at The Globe. What I liked about performing at The Globe was you are so directly relating to an audience. You’re not pretending there’s a fourth wall. You’re having a direct conversation. That’s what I love about this open art form. It allows for the show – even though it’s tightly made in terms of comedy, dramaturgy and the rhythm of it – to let the audience be what they are on that night. I can’t help referencing the artifice, the magic. We know what the mechanics are yet still it has the possibility of transporting us. I love that.
Photo credit: Pia Johnson