Meow Meow: 15 questions

Cabaret star Meow Meow tells us about bringing early 20th-century Berlin to London in Barry Humphries’ Weimar Cabaret.

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Meow Meow is a global cabaret superstar. She has thrilled crowds with her solo show, wowed West End audiences in The Umbrellas Of Cherbourg and even taken on Shakespeare, playing Titania in A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Shakespeare’s Globe.

The Australian performer returns to London this summer, starring in Barry Humphries’ Weimar Cabaret at The Barbican.

The show, created by Dame Edna Everage’s alter ego, is in his words “an evening of the music Hitler hated.” Inspired by a discovery from his youth, Humphries  brings the songs of 1920s and 1930s’ Berlin to modern London.

Meow Meow tells us more:

What can you tell us about Barry Humphries’ Weimar Cabaret?

It’s funny, tragic and musically extraordinary.

It shows another passionate side of Barry with which audiences may be less familiar – so that’s exciting. It’s a beautiful thing to follow, how finding a suitcase full of sheet music in a second-hand bookstore as a boy became a lifelong passion for music and intrepid exploring!

It’s both incredibly relevant and a homage to the many composers who were lost, banned and exiled by the Nazis in those unsettled years between the First and Second World War. It was a period of radical instability, but also intense creative outpourings in art, music, machinery and life! They called that period “dancing on the volcano.”

It’s a very special piece. For all its humour, it is also very moving. The orchestra is another huge character in the piece. Of course, I’m singing a lot and kicking my legs up. It’s a fantastic concoction.

What makes Weimar cabaret stand out from other forms and eras of cabaret?

I think it’s the wild junction, in a way, of previous art, song and cabaret forms with the post-First World War environment. It’s a reflection of the political drive, the desperation, the poverty, the decadence, the sex and the collision of modernism, jazz, futurism and classical music, whizzing around the metropolis.

It has biting and ridiculously funny lyrics and swoonable and violent music – what a combination to set the senses aflame! It also, of course, provided the basis for so much music of the 20th and 21st century.

What first made you want to appear in this show?

Barry Humphries, plus the fabulous jazz sounds of the Weimar period of music. What’s not to love? Barry is a national and international, nay, stratospheric treasure! He is a most brilliant and hilarious man. It’s thrilling to be on and offstage with him.

We are both so passionate about this wild era. I couldn’t think of a more wonderful way to be both singing the music I love and laughing with a genius I adore, than in this show. And the orchestra… wow!

Has the show changed at all over the past few years?

Yes, it has. That’s the great thing about this music and these lyrics, they move people in different ways. They get “spookily” more resonant, as Barry’s good friend Dame Edna Everage might say. We are both quite naughty improvisers as well… anything can happen!

What is it like to perform with Barry Humphries?

Clearly, it’s a theatrical match made in heaven! We both adore this music so much, there is a frisson that’s thrilling. Being on stage with Barry is a masterclass in timing, both comic and poignant. This show is a great reminder to always follow not only one’s passions but also one’s curiosities. To keep curious in life. Curiosity energises and one will have so many extraordinary adventures.

Barry Humphries Weimar Cabaret (Image courtesy of Target Live)
Barry Humphries Weimar Cabaret (Image courtesy of Target Live)

Has anything surprised you while performing the show?

Barry manages to shock me on a frequent basis. It’s a great skill and very healthy for the constitution.

How do you feel about performing at The Barbican?

Excited!

What was your first experience of theatre?

My past is rather lost in the martini mists of time, but I do have more recent favourite gaspingly visceral memories of Pina Bausch’s company, Barry Kosky’s Poppea, Jurowski conducting Shostakovich and the inspired mayhem of Kiki and Herb in New York.

Why is watching a live performance so special?

Because you can shout at the performers and they’ll react, rather than take no notice like a television or simply switch off like Siri.

You can also bring flowers and other lovely tokens to the performers at the stage door and they’ll be much more appreciative than an LED screen. Seriously, live performance, I love it! Flesh and air and uncertainty and shared experience! I love it!

What one piece of advice would you give aspiring performers?

Be curious. Do the research. Find the unique. Sorry that’s three pieces! Mathematics has never been my forte.

Barry Humphries' Weimar Cabaret at The Barbican
Meow Meow stars in Barry Humphries’ Weimar Cabaret at The Barbican

Apart from The Barbican, which is your favourite London theatre?

Don’t make me choose! I loved performing as Titania in Emma Rice’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Shakespeare’s Globe. The connection with the audience, the sky and the Thames is profound and revelatory about Shakespeare.

I adored crowdsurfing at the Royal Festival Hall with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. It is like a second home to me. And the London Coliseum – I just love the feeling of all the theatre ghosts!

And what could beat watching Edward Watson in the ballet Mayerling at the Royal Opera House?

Then there’s the beautiful intimacy and programming of Soho Theatre

Why do you think London is such a great place to experience theatre?

All of the above! There is so much on, all the time!

Which one other London show are you excited about at the moment?

Hofesch Shechter Dance Company Grand Finale at Sadler’s Wells. Oh, I love Sadler’s Wells too! The life force in Hofesh Shechter’s work is just thrilling.

Where is your favourite place to visit in London?

All of the above, again. I love being in the theatre. On stage, side stage, sitting in the audience. It is my favourite magical place to be.

What’s your top tip for a trip to the theatre?

Hang on for the ride!

Meow Meow stars in Barry Humphries’ Weimar Cabaret at The Barbican from 11 to 29 July. BOOK NOW