Maggie Kirkpatrick explains after her first number that she’s not a terrific singer, and has always had a tiny range. She says this with the wry grin she flashes a lot during the show, the smile of a woman who’s seen a lot and is still able to laugh it all off.

It’s a perfect way to pitch the show. Kirkpatrick will always be best known for playing sadistic prison officer Ferguson (nicknamed the Freak) from television’s Prisoner, but has more than acquitted herself as a serious actor starring with almost every major theatre company in the country. She’s also starred in a number of musicals (including Anything Goes) so she’s no amateur, but has the experience to confess her limitations and poke gentle fun at them.

The show itself is an update and rejigger from a previous showing at the old Tilbury (then entitled The Screw Is Loose), with a great selection of tunes chosen by David Mitchell, solid accompaniment by Andrew Ross and creative consulting by Nancye Hayes. They make all the right moves, avoiding hackneyed show tunes for a set list of obscure but catchy ditties. (Despite the show’s title, Kirkpatrick also avoids singing the Sondheim hit I’m Still Here.)

For a gay and lesbian crowd, the extra bonuses are Kirkpatrick’s reminiscences, including a turn filling in for a drag queen at Capriccio’s alongside Carlotta. Kirkpatrick also used to record the voices for drag show pantomimes later mimed by drag queens, bizarre quasi-radio drama productions which also starred June Salter and Toni Lamond.

Talking with Kirkpatrick after the show, she provided more details of her bohemian past.

I met Carlotta probably about 1960 when I was 20 and Carlotta was 18, Kirkpatrick said, who used to socialise at the old Rex Hotel in Kings Cross. There was a little bar at the back, a tiny one -¦ And it was a gay bar, very discreet, very discreet. Women weren’t allowed to drink inside the pub, either in the back bar or out front. I used to drink on the footpath -¦ You saw the most extraordinary group of people you’ve ever seen, from wharfies, actors, painters, writers, a few very discreet gay men, because all that was terribly underhand, it was illegal. As indeed was dressing in drag.

In fact there was a very famous lesbian in those days used to ride a Harley Davidson, Bobby Nugent was her name, she was an entertainer and when she wasn’t wearing her leathers and things on the bike, she used to wear the most extraordinarily elegant handmade Italian suits. Really, elegant stuff. But they didn’t have a fly in them, she wasn’t allowed to do that. So it worked the other way! It worked the other way for women dressing as men. So I just used to chat and drink with this amazing, diverse group of people.

Kirkpatrick laments her single status in the show, her desire for a boyfriend (yes, she’s straight), and very, very briefly mentions Prisoner. Is she sick to death of talking about it?

Yes I am frankly, she said, curtly. It’s not hugely important to me in the scheme of 42 years, but it’s obviously still terribly important to many, many people -¦ I’m very grateful that that keeps people perhaps a little interested in what I do. It has provided audiences that might not have come to some of the plays that I’ve done for instance -¦ That’s terrific, because if television exposure like that can get people to the theatre, then that warms my old heart.

There is, however, one priceless Freak moment, which is now about to be ruined. (SPOILER ALERT!) Kirkpatrick explained that she failed in her audition for Chicago years ago, so dons leather gloves and rips out with a nasty rendition of When You’re Good To Mama, rich with the lesbian undertones erased from Queen Latifah’s interpretation. It’s also sung in the Freak’s strident Aussie drawl.

The Freak’s still got it, even with a dash of bitterness, a touch of laughter and buckets of irony.

Still Here with Maggie Kirkpatrick plays at Kabarett Voltaire, corner of William and Brougham Streets, Kings Cross, until 20 December. Dinner and show are $40 (dinner starts at 7pm) and the show only is $25 (starting at 8pm). Phone 9368 0894 for bookings.

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