Jailhouse rocks, thanks to cheeky cabaret delights

THE CAT, THE RAT AND ME 2.5/5 Sheila Bradley, Kew Court House, season ended. UNDIES 3.5/5 Megan Shorey, Kew Court House, season ended.

THE CAT, THE RAT AND ME 2.5/5 Sheila Bradley, Kew Court House, season ended. UNDIES 3.5/5 Megan Shorey, Kew Court House, season ended.

KEW Court House is a charming new small arts venue, converted at some expense from a heritage police station. It has theatres and jail cells in the one building, and for the coming week, is hosting a range of acts from the Melbourne Cabaret Festival.

Sheila Bradley first came to Australia in the '50s to star in a show called Grab Me A Gondola, at the invitation of the J. C. Williamson's company. She stayed, and has settled into pleasantly eccentric retirement on the Sunshine Coast after a long career in the theatre, here and abroad.

The Cat, The Rat and Me, co-written by the supremely talented Tony Sheldon, is a lively and amusing autobiographical cabaret that looks back over her life in showbiz. Bradley is a fount of humorous backstage anecdotes, and traces her rise from young girl singing for kippers, through her big break on the West End (a star fell, and she found herself playing Lalume in the original production of Kismet), to her strong connection with the Australian stage over many decades.

While it's true Bradley's voice has descended in timbre and frayed with age, she can still act with it, and the show is at its best during music-hall numbers and sea-shanties, rather than big show tunes. The funniest is Sheldon's Noel Coward-like ditty about the lack of straight men in the theatre game. Bradley's winning stage presence, mischievous demeanour her skill as a raconteur, and the deep vein of theatrical history she mines, all help the show rise above its vocal cracks.

No range issues with Megan Shorey's voice: in her merrier moments, she sounds as if she might achieve takeoff from the piano stool and fly into the lighting rig. Her musical heights are directed down below: Undies takes on the history of knickers, from primitive loincloth to spandex thong.

Sharp and satirical songs, dexterously woven with cheeky feminist humour, rove over the differences between boys' and girls' undergarments, the perils of lingerie, and the joys of letting it all hang out. One buoyant and slightly sentimental song about being a mum didn't seem to fit, but the rest of the show is seamless and clever, with Shorey's musical antics and elastic expressions making for an entertaining and sometimes very silly ride.

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