Tis Pity moves its way up through time excavating and exploring themes around sex and sex work. The show plays out across the front of the stage – platforms, a rolling staircase, decorated black and silver with mannequin legs up and open – more diorama than set. It’s a haphazard arrangement for what is a frenetic production.
Despite the somewhat dishevelled look, the piece itself is never untidy. What comes through strong from top to tail is the craft from Richard Mills, Cameron Menzies, and Meow Meow and her fellow performers.
The three dancers – Alexander Bryce, Thomas Johansson, and Patrick Weir – look as if they stepped off the bill at the Kit Kat Club by way of Carnivàle, inhabiting and enrichening this vaudevillian piece of theatrical loveliness.
It’s difficult not to be reminded of Alan Cummings’ Master of Ceremonies when Kanen Breen takes to the stage. Don’t be mistaken, his fine work certainly wasn’t an act of ventriloquism. Instead, it was something unique, shifting from slapstick to stillness and back again with the precision of a cinematic cut.
Meow Meow – sometimes frantic, all-times stunning – gave a muscular performance with body and voice. To be sure, the sound levels from the orchestra seated right behind the action meant too many vocals were completely lost (even with the super titles), but you rarely had your eyes off her.
For all its hijinks, there are many visually arresting moments in ‘Tis Pity: The sparse shibari with red ribbon was magnificent; so too was the realisation it was the orchestra themselves providing a vocal score in one section, their instruments set aside; that piano in the final scenes, giving a sense of annihilation rather than a comfortable ending. And then, Meow Meow ascends. And waits. Beautiful.
‘Tis Pity: An Operatic Fantasia on Selling the Skin and the Teeth
Elisabeth Murdoch Hall – Melbourne Recital Centre, Southbank Boulevard, Southbank
Performance: Saturday 4 February 2017
Season continues to 8 February 2017
For more information, visit: www.victorianopera.com.au for details.
Image: Meow Meow stars in Victorian Opera’s ‘Tis Pity: An Operatic Fantasia on Selling the Skin and the Teeth – photo by Pia Johnson