The boylesque boy wonders from Brisbane are back with a close encounter of the fabulous kind
When was the last time someone told you the future was bright, and you actually believed it? The new show from homegrown, all-male burlesque troupe Briefs starts with such a declaration: Ring Mistress Shivannah (Fez Fa'anana’s drag alter ego) has come from that bright future to encourage us to hold tight as the world spins. She is the captain of this ship, and when she speaks, we listen. When she says we will be able to forge forward with love and respect, we listen. And, at least for the 75 minutes of their new Sydney Festival show, we believe.
It’s been ten years since Briefs first strutted onto a Brisbane stage. In the last decade the group has become an international indie cabaret phenomenon.
Close Encounters sees them take a bold and optimistic leap, while refining what they do. That’s not to say this dirty and dangerous variety show has a strong emphasis on ‘refinement’, simply that it requires real intelligence and creativity to craft a party this wild. The result is perfectly paced, keeping its audience screaming in delight from start to finish. It stands head and shoulders above its cohort of 2010s alt-cabaret.
The company has been blending striptease, dance, acrobatics, comedy and aerial work for several years, but this year’s mix is particularly potent. The technical prowess of these performers is impressive, but the show stands out for its ability to reach out to the audience (sometimes literally) and subvert every expectation.
The entire show looks spectacular and feels coherent: the acts are drawn together by retro-futuristic costuming from Dallas Delaforce (think The Jetsons, Lost in Space, Barbarella and 1980s Grace Jones at her most alien) and a pumping soundtrack. Everything is queered in some way, like when a fabulous bearded drag queen, dressed in a Cher-inspired sparkling fringed gown, struts to a dance remix of the ‘Imperial March’ from Star Wars.
Every member of the ensemble gets their moment in the spotlight, and highlights include a juggling act/striptease/chemistry lesson from Louis Biggs, Harry Clayton-Wright’s Kate Bush-inspired contemporary dance routine and Mark ‘Captain Kidd’ Winmill’s neon hula hoop finale. Thomas Worrell and Fa’anana join together for an aerial routine which sees Worrell spinning high above the stage in a man-sized birdcage, while Fa’anana embodies an alien queen breathing life into her human pet from below.
There’s a point to all this madness, beyond the awe-inspiring feats: Briefs celebrates the richness of life itself and blows open new ways of existing and resisting in this scary world. Unlike other shows in the same vein that seek to be empowering and politically inspiring, Briefs feels effortlessly political – its entertainment value explodes forth from its politics and vice versa. The mere existence of this show is radical.