Boylesque spectacular Briefs is in town and heating up the Melboune Arts Centre. A favourite of the festival touring circuit in Australia and recently having made waves in Europe, the show is a grab bag of athletic circus, steamy strip-tease and OTT drag.
It’s an all-male troupe but from the opening sequence, which presents a manly take on the classically feminine burlesque feather fan act, the show does away with any sense of conventional gender. The result is not so much androgynous as it is a space where masculinity and femininity are both dialled up to full volume, each equally celebrated and parodied.
The host fittingly is a bearded drag queen. Ring-mistress Shivannah (Fez Fa’anana) oversees the spectacle with a well honed balance of high glamour and lowbrow humour. Shivannah’s performance, one part Vegas showgirl to one part Gold Coast bingo caller, sets the tone well for the eclectic and wonderful talents of the cast.
Mark “Captain Kidd” Winmill – a former winner of the Burlesque Hall of Fame’s “King of Burlesque” title – plays with superheated energy in drag or out. Louis Biggs has an easy charm, whether stripping or doing circus tricks. Drag star Dallas Dellaforce, who also designs the costumes for the troupe, parodies pop culture icons with fabulous excess, while Evil Hate Monkey (another King of Burlesque winner who hails from Brooklyn NY) takes the audience laughing all the way to wrongtown. Aerial contortionist Thomas Worrell is a revelation, his pieces physically masterful and hypnotically beautiful.
While the show maintains an anarchic energy, it is slickly orchestrated, especially in the thrilling group numbers. It doesn’t skimp on its promise to be spectacular, nor does it merely flirt with the erotic. The show is overtly sexual, without a hint of coyness. At times, it goes into territory which is confronting or grotesque. This is neo-boylesque, where taboos of all kinds are simply more fodder for entertainment. It is played with a sense of humour and heart however that ensures that even at its most lurid, the audience remain charmed.
With its club style soundtrack, strutting sexuality and exuberant displays of taut tattooed bodies, Briefs feels very much like something you’d see late at night in a festival tent. It’s almost odd seeing it in the venerable Melbourne Arts Centre, like watching an R rated movie with one of your parents. The boys certainly have no problem making the space their own though and the energy in the audience is electric.
While Briefs sometimes slaps you in the face with its outré sexuality, its overall impact is positively energising. Shivannah, in a heartfelt moment, speaks of the importance of artistic ritual, and there is some sense of a greater process at work in the studied excess and challenging of boundaries. So many taboos are explored that the whole concept of taboo or societal restraint breaks down, leaving you as audience somehow more free to get in touch with what your own personal values are.
Maybe you personally won’t come out pondering on such things, maybe you’ll just enjoy the spectacle of hot guys with their gear off doing crazy circus tricks. Either way, you’ll have a good time.
Arts Centre Melbourne in association with Briefs Factory presents
Venue: Fairfax Studio | Arts Centre Melbourne
Dates: 6 – 13 December 2016
Bookings: www.artscentremelbourne.com.au | 1300 182 183