Funny, sexy and feminist all at the same time, Australian cabaret star Meow Meow (Melissa Madden Gray) delivers wonderful frivolity.
Hans Christian Andersen's original 1837 Little Mermaid (with its weird and decidedly un-Disney ending) provides the styling and themes for Meow Meow's search for love in the depths of her own sub-conscious ("there's nothing here - I'm so shallow!").
How far do we have to change ourselves for, and how much can we expect from, a potential amour? Do we have to stop snoring? Hobble instead of swim? Turns out the fetish of restricted female mobility takes many forms, not only fishtails and high heels (there's a wink to Helmut Newton).
Through a string of songs including Amanda Palmer and Radiohead, the effortless ease of Meow Meow's alto voice is expertly matched by the Siren Effect Orchestra in their captain coats (accordion, double bass etc. sousaphone!). In contrast, Meow Meow's physical acrobatics - a fishnet, naturally - are played for laughs; they're hectic rather than graceful, and at one point she looks like she's in an adult-size jolly jumper.
Innuendo and an adult doll are also there for comic effect; the closest the show comes to raunchy is Meow Meow crowd-surfing in sequin-seamed fishnet stockings (the costumes are mostly sombre-coloured but there's glitter galore).
In an amusing play-outside-of-the-play, the chanteuse berates her producers for the lack of a bubble machine. Never mind: there are dolphin balloons. There's an operatic dating game show with "volunteers". Guest performer Chris Ryan plays foil to Meow Meow's diva to perfection.
Although the evening is perhaps one serious song or one pretend-confusion schtick moment too long, there's a well-wrought ending that lands on an ambiguous note to make Hans proud.
Recommended, particularly if you get a seat at the "front"; most action plays towards the bar. An entertaining pearl.
Arts Festival review
What: Meow Meow's Little Mermaid
Where: Speigeltent, NZ Herald Festival Garden, Aotea Square
When: Until Sunday.