A few days ago, I’d written a review on the brilliant, action-packed show Club Swizzle, stating tha it was Fringe at its finest, funniest and most fabulous. Whoopsies! It looks like another troupe has quickly stolen Club Swizzle’s crown, for after seeing Briefs: Close Encounters, I’d have to say this is Fringe at its most hilarious, most fantabulous and, yes, quite possibly, its finest.
When you see the posters for Briefs, you could be forgiven for thinking it was plain and simple burlesque, albeit delivered by a bunch of handsome, ambiguous guys as opposed to the usual female darlings we’re more used to connoting in corsets and stockings. Or you could be mistaken in thinking Briefs was a typical strip troupe – the kind you find at hens’ nights and in dodgy bars along Sydney’s Oxford Street.
Alas, both assumptions would be wrong. Briefs: Close Encounters is anything but typical. Its performers are each multi-talented stars of action in their own right, doing single-handed handstands one minute, backward cartwheels the next; mastering juggling, baton-twirling, hula-hooping and hoop-swinging so darn well, you’d think these were the people who were coaching every other performer at this year’s Fringe festival.
While I wasn’t too impressed with the opening number – a bunch of spunky guys carrying feathered fans and dancing around androgynous and glamazonian MC Shivannah to a spooky, sci-fi soundtrack, all doubt was thrown aside by the time a warped rabbit appeared on the stage, seemingly having dug his way out of a warped version of Alice in Wonderland to deliver some magical sleight-of-hand (or, at least, sound).
Then the real action begins.
To the strains of Australian Crawl’s classic song Reckless, a bearded stud is lip-synching while sliding about on stage, slowly getting up to perform a very original form of interpretive dance. One moment, you’re thinking the guy is taking the piss out of the artform, the next you’re wondering if he is indeed very serious in his statements. By the end of the number, he’s taking of t-shirt after t-shirt, each emblazoned with a contemporary political message. Of course, by the time he’s ripped the last tee off, his cut body has the audience rapturous with applause, you’re not so sure if any of the political messages ultimately sank in.
When the same guy comes on to perform a duet of a dance with a disheveled drag queen/king, again you’re kind of caught between awe at the deepness-versus-hilarity of it all.
Next, a similarly strapping stud comes out on stage, rolling alongside him a tray lined with science lab paraphernalia. He begins mixing potions and then juggling balls, all the while taking one garment off after the other in between tricks. In the sketch, the art of audio sampling is put to excellent use, with soundbites from old science programs layered over laidback beats providing for an awesome soundtrack.
The brilliant thing about this kind of performance is that it truly has it all. If you’re the kind of theatre-goer appreciates cerebral entertainment, the magic will please you to no end. If you’re the kind who prefers slick aesthetics (ie: muscles and good looks), these guys have those in spades. And, if like me, you love a decent look on stage along with a mind-bending trick or two, you’ll be totally wrapped in a show like this.
The show’s music is as cleverly coordinated as the visuals, featuring songs by Björk, Kate Bush, Roisin Murphy, right through to Nicki Minaj. It’s like someone stole my iPod and played my personal top ten.
Kudos must especially go to MC Shivannah, whose brand of wit mixed with wonderful irony and a fresh kind of androgyny, literally throws shade over all other drag acts I’ve seen (literally, because this Islander dude is so tall, believe me, the shade is there!).
I saw Briefs show last year and I thought that was wonderful in itself. After seven years of appearing at Perth Fringe World, you’d think these guys would have gotten a little jaded by now. Instead every year, their act gets bigger, bolder and brighter than the one prior.
Now I’m aching to see what they come up with next year.
Five friggin’ fabulous stars. Antonino Tati
‘Briefs: Close Encounters’ is on at The West Australian Spiegeltent in the Pleasure Garden, James Street, Northbridge until February 25, 2018.
Tickets are available through www.fringeworld.com.au.
Photography by Kate Pardey.