Victorian Opera Presents ‘TIS PITY: AN OPERATIC FANTASIA OF SELLING THE SKIN AND TEETH

In praise of a cabaret goddess

By Bradley Storer

A sinister puppeteer dangles a dark-haired poppet on strings, twisting her to his amusement and satisfaction, as he sings of the evening ahead with hints of the debauchery and debasement to come. The star of the evening, the international cabaret star and dishevelled diva Meow Meow, misses her entrance to the Melbourne Recital Centre (of course) and is forced to drag around props and costumes before she ascends a staircase to become a glorious goddess of the ancient world. We are promised bite-sized pieces depicting the goddess’ many daughters throughout the ages, from Ancient Greece to the modern day.

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Meow Meow is, as always, a combination of high-diva glamour and self-deprecating humour, always ready with an off-the-cuff remark that never fails to make the audience laugh. Her magnificent voice is on full show here, from a gutsy alto to a light classical soprano all utilized to maximum effect throughout the night. Her leading man Kanen Breen takes on many roles in the performance, from lover to pimp to bishop, with a ghoulish visage, an elastic physicality and a thrilling tenor voice that rings to every corner of the Recital Centre.

The text of the performance, from composer and librettist Richard Mills, is quite dense and delivered at a rapid pace – the performers are miked but not amplified loud enough, so often the words blended into a flurry of sound, and climatic lines to songs were drowned out by the orchestra. The vignette structure of the performance also seems extremely rushed, with one or two sections going by so quickly and without remark that I found it hard to decipher what they were.

The show also never seems to decide quite clearly what their subject matter is. At the start of the show the proclaimed intent seems to be examining the evolving perception of prostitution throughout history, but what emerges seems to be more a comment on attitudes towards women and femininity in general rather than prostitution. While this is certainly not a problem in itself, not making the focus of the work clear only serves to add to the audience’s confusion. The inclusion of three dancers (Alexander Bryce, Patrick Weir and Thomas Johansson) as bit players to Meow Meow and Breen’s escapades, while wonderful in their dancing and delivering good performances, never seem adequately utilized enough to justify having them in the show.

The only few moments that work and connect with the audience are those where Meow Meow is left alone onstage to simply sing – in these moments, she is tender, heart-breaking and most importantly real. In the finale where Meow Meow sings about the troubles of modern times, a line about ‘building a wall’ around her heart becomes an uncomfortably contemporary parallel to the path of current politics.

Tis Pity feels like it needs re-structuring and reconsideration of its overall message before it can truly work as a theatrical piece, but having a star such as Meow Meow back on our stage is a delight worth savouring.

Venue: Melbourne Recital Centre, Elisabeth Murdoch Hall, 31 Sturt St, Southbank

Dates: 4 – 8 February

Times: 7:30pm

Tickets: $118 – $30

Bookings: melbournerecital.com.au, (03) 9699 3333

Image by Karl Giant

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