Glory Box: glorious burlesque

cast for glory box by finucane and smith

I love Meow Meow. She’s an awesome performer, fearlessly shattering the performance walls; stylish with a great voice, charismatic and opinionated, a kind of singing stand-up comedian with her ability to mix laughs and social commentary. She was guest last night at Glory Box, the latest production of Finucane and Smith, and the two-hour show was every bit as entertaining and provoking as last year’s Burlesque Hour.

Some of the pieces are repeats, all the better for another viewing: Salome’s unveiling, the balloon-bursting Queen of Hearts, the concluding Get Wet for Art that requires the front rows to shelter under brollies. There’s clever illusion — where does the naked woman hide that hanky? — and stunning trapeze and hoola hoop action; there are spraying apple pieces in keeping with the Eden/sin/Pandora theme, smooches, cross-dressing, the shattering of sexual identity preconceptions … and the thing that struck me at that other performance and again here, the simple joy of the female form, sans airbrushing, surgery and other unrealistic expectations. Writer Christos Tsiolkas contributes the script for a be-suited duet, ‘I Have a Confession’, a slap in the face of homophobia. And as before, the performers get out and about amidst the audience, packed into the basement level of the very cool fortyfivedownstairs.

Meow Meow’s ‘Down Dolly Down’ set encapsulates the political context perfectly, and her ‘Be Careful’/All the Girls with piano accompaniment is sheer class. That she pulls off such impact while, for example, rotating slowly on a lazy susan or lit by her own torch is all the more reason for applause.

Glory Box is a glorious romp indeed, with Jimi Hendrix, Portishead, Prince, Salt-N-Pepa on the playlist, and a message in the medium that is revealing in more ways than one.

Meow Meow’s Little Match Girl — what a bright spark

meow meow cabaret performerHumour, pathos, an awesome voice, a superb use of light and shade in all forms … oh Meow Meow, it was all over way too soon, the light burning twice as bright burning half as — no wait.

We saw Meow Meow’s Little Match Girl at the Malthouse Theatre, that gorgeous old refurbed brewery in Melbourne’s Southbank, and it was a hot ticket. Not ‘too hot’, like the opening number sung in German and then English with true cabaret panache, but just the right kind of heiss: flirty, yes, and creative, and clever.

I don’t want to say too much, because the show took turns I didn’t expect, in staging and lighting, and in musical direction. But there was at its core a social conscience anchored around the plight of children — hence the nod to Hans Christian Andersen’s fairytale — and in the wings superb support from a talented singer, Mitchell Butel, and a sharp four-piece band who added atmospherics with violin that were truly sensational.

Meow Meow is so engaging, risque and personable and witty, making established one-liners and tired double entendres work anew. She swears for emphasis, not conversation. She does silence very well, and darkness, too. She pulls folks out of the audience and doesn’t take the piss, though she does tumble into some Teutonic instruction from time to time.

The show went for 80 minutes and there were torches and light bulbs and a chandelier. It could not be confused with Phantom of the Opera although the singing was very good. There was a clever — damn, that word again — to a Melbourne moment that might not work in other cities, unless they’re equally as clueless when it comes to public transport.

The Malthouse show runs till December 4 (I can recommend the pork belly if you’re dining beforehand, and isn’t it nice to be at a theatre where you can take your drink in?), and Meow Meow returns early next year for gigs in Melbourne’s Spiegeltent, and others’, too. Nom nom nom.

The Burlesque Hour in Melbourne: with added Meow Meow

moira finucane burlesque performer

Moira Finucane

Burlesque has come a long way from sequins, boas and corsets with an aim to tease. That’s certainly the understanding presented by The Burlesque Hour, a production playing at Melbourne’s delightful warehouse basement club fortyfivedownstairs.

The club plays a big part in the event’s success, boasting terrific atmosphere with cabaret seating around a central catwalk, Chinese lanterns, vintage timber floor and pressed metal ceiling, and some of the friendliest door and bar staff you could hope to exchange greetings with.

Created by Jackie Smith and Moira Finucane, the show — it goes longer than an hour, thankfully — shatters the stereotypical notions of striptease, burlesque, nudity and female sexuality.

In the show we saw, Finucane was the lynchpin, carrying the politics from the catwalk to the back row with balloon-bursting ease. Her bag lady ascending to heaven was a truly poignant display in a night of great variety.

The Angels’ ‘Am I Ever Gonna See Your Face Again’ was destroyed by having a woman in showgirl feathered bikini carrying the tune; same again with gender-inverting drag queen-lip synced opener The Divinyls’ ‘I Touch Myself’. Prince’s ‘Purple Rain’ was put to art snob-bashing good use, with a tip of the hat to the water wall at NGV as well as Poe’s ‘The Raven’, and a Flashdance-esque saturation to boot. The front rows looked pensive when the pre-song umbrellas and plastic sheets were handed out, and again when the second act set a cracking start thanks to a whip-wielding Sosina Wogayehu in dominatrix mode.

Thing was, Finucane does not conform to magazine cover concepts of celebrity good looks — no facelift, no perky tits, no Brazilian. She was, if memory serves, the only performer to appear fully naked.

The staging was superb throughout, simple but striking: cigarette smoke through black cloth, streamers of green cloth, black blood splattering naked flesh.

Elsewhere, there were heavy metal dance routines from Holly Durant and Harriet Ritchie and sheer, strawberry-flavoured elegance from MC Maude Davey.

Davey added a fine note of sexual politics by appearing nude but for long gloves, headpiece and extensive necklace while singing ‘I Want a Little Sugar in My Bowl’: such a crack-up to see a naked woman flirting over the removal by teeth of one of said gloves, even as the song’s metaphor was literally stripped.

meow meow cabaret performer

Meow Meow

And there was Meow Meow, cabaret star par excellence who dazzled with an amazing range and theatrical presence, adroit at audience interaction, humour and pathos. In one of her three numbers, she out-Palmered her friend Amanda with a rendition of Dresden Dolls’ ‘Missed Me’. She was the latest guest artist to appear in the show’s nine-week run, ending next month.

Meow Meow appears later this year at the Malthouse in Little Match Girl.

The Burlesque Hour shattered expectations, unleashed beauty and the beast in the one package, and provided food for thought to take home. Yes, burlesque sure looks different down in the basement. I hope the hour strikes again soon.