Review: Briefs – Close Encounters (Underbelly Festival 2017)

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If you only have time to see one performance at the Underbelly Festival this year, the answer from us is and always will be Briefs. Returning to London for a third, triumphant run, the stunning, self-styled ‘boy-lesque’ troupe from down under is back with an all new show that will titillate, probe and blow your mind with their sheer creativity and showmanship.

Describing Briefs is in itself a bit of a challenge. Part burlesque, part drag, part circus, part contemporary dance and part comedy, Briefs manages to fit countless aspects into their swift hour long show. Led by bearded drag extraordinaire Fez Fa-anana, who doubled as MC for the night, the newest show carries on the tradition of designing high-concept acts, this time loosely framed around the concept of sci-fi and futurism, as the Briefs team descends from outer space and the future in a fabulous starship to take Earth entertainment to a new level.

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Photo Credit: Kate Pardey Photography

If anyone can make an improbable framing story like that work, it’s Briefs. Opening with a high energy number involving all seven members of the troupe performing an African-tribal dance inspired sequence, complete with huge leaf fans and headdress, Briefs: Close Encounters quickly established their signature style of letting loose, having fun and of course, showing off plenty of skin in elaborate, glitzy costumes that were more or less out of this world.

The frenetic energy with which the Briefs boys perform their acts is utterly infectious to watch, and it’s easy to get completely caught up in the action, whooping and cheering as each performer demonstrates their skills onstage, keeping your attention rapt from start to end. Although part of the appeal is of course in watching some of the boys debrief (and god knows the air in the Spiegeltent was all fired up during the show), these are men with genuine talent and sex appeal that goes well beyond a simple striptease.

Through their brilliant ideas, scenarios as innocent as a chemistry lesson or hair salon are given new life, reimagined as sexy, adrenaline-infused numbers set to perfectly selected tracks, tightly scripted and well-rehearsed. Harry Clayton-Wright, for example, appears in a blonde wig, thick red lipstick and a pink nightgown as he dances madly (aesthetically appropriately, to Kate Bush) alongside the hyper-masculine, virile Thomas Gundry Greenfield, a strange combination that surprisingly, perfectly lines up campy comedy and grace to create a stunning act.

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Photo Credit: Briefs Factory Facebook

Each and every member of the troupe exudes an irresistible, unique charm that endears the audience to each act, an unrelenting enthusiasm and belief in the roles that they take on and bringing some of your weirdest, wildest fantasies to life. The tattooed Mark “Captain Kidd” Winmill balances masculinity and femininity in equal amounts between his initial graceful trapeze act, pivoting around a trapeze ring suspended from the ceiling, and later, his transformation into a drag starship commander, wielding dazzling neon hula hoops with impeccable dexterity while decked out in skimpy briefs and big, blonde hair. Boyish Louis Biggs makes audiences hot for teacher as he shows off his ball sense, juggling multiple balls while solving a Rubik’s cube, creating colourful chemical solutions and stripping layer after layer off his all white ensemble. Thomas Worrell impresses with his erotically charged trapeze acts, while the most surprisingly charming act of all goes to Dale Woodbridge-Brown’s cheeky white rabbit getup. Initially an interactive piece as he weaves in and out the audience and ‘controlling’ alarm clocks, Woodbridge-Brown eventually gets his turn to shine as he turns cartwheels across the stage with a maniacal grin on his face to the tune of a remix of Black Box’s ‘Ride on Time’, spinning batons and having the time of his life.

All of this comes together in the spectacular final act of Briefs: Close Encounters as all seven members come together with a no-holds barred performance appropriately set to Nicki Minaj’s ‘Starships’. Just when you think you’ve seen it all, each succeeding member raises the bar further still with increasingly outrageous and supercharged acts, and will almost certainly leave you hungry for more and a ravenous desire to join the mothership by the time it’s over.

With just the right amount of weird and a whole lot of wonderful, Briefs: Close Encounters proves that the boys are still at the top of their game and have more than enough creative juice and energy in them yet, continually testing their limits and breaking new boundaries with each show. If this is the future liberals want, then they can have it, because god knows we could all do with a little more Briefs in our lives.

Performance attended 26/7/17

Briefs: Close Encounters plays from 14th July – 30th September at the Underbelly Festival on Southbank. Tickets available here

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