There's a reason why humour is described as a sense - it's as personal as touch, as variable as taste and (occasionally) as shocking as smell. In Meow Meow's Little Match Girl (at the Southbank Centre until 30 December), the show is often intimate, sometimes shocking and always teetering on the brink of bad taste. And your reaction to it will depend very much on your peculiar sense of humour (and the more peculiar, the better!).
Meow Meow is a singer, comedienne, burlesque, clown, storyteller, dancer and, at the end of the show, bookseller: it would be no surprise to learn that she made the coffee I drank pre-show, so much does she put into 90 minutes of cabaret. To help her, she has an excellent band and a stalker cum singer, Chris Ryan, whose operatic voice is beautiful (and a few members of the audience too - oh yes she does!), but this is a show about Meow Meow. Roughly (very roughly) following the story of Hans Christian Andersen's fairytale, she belts out an eclectic mix of songs ranging from Cole Porter to Laurie Anderson via Richard Wagner, with a few of her own thrown in. And she sings them well, if not always as audibly as one would expect in this venue.
In trying to do so many things in a relatively short show, there's always the danger of not really doing any of them justice - and this show did fall into that trap. The jokes weren't quite funny enough - too often, even in 2012, relying on a little swearing to get a laugh. The songs weren't fully realised either -especially the closing number, a plaintive and moving version of Patty Griffin's Be Careful, truncated to tell us to buy the CD after the show. And the audience participation never really got going (well not compared to panto season offerings) - fellow Australian, Dame Edna Everage could teach Ms Meow a few things about that.
It's a strange show - it sometimes feels like you're in Europe zapping from one channel to another on New Year's Eve, as various old style entertainment shows see out the old and ring in the new. Nothing ever gets fully developed before Ms Meow halts it to break the fourth wall, inject a little social comment, or squash her cleavage into another costume. Perhaps more singing - at its best, her voice is glorious - with a little patter between numbers would serve her better. But Meow Meow would (it seems) prefer her brand of "kamikaze cabaret" to a more conventional entertainment. I'm not sure she's right about that.