Well the big purple cow may have gone up north for a while but that doesn’t mean the fun is over on the South Bank and taking up residence in the Spiegeltent for the next twelve weeks are a group of talented chaps from Australia who plan to totally blow your mind as they take you to a galaxy far, far away. Welcome to Briefs: Close Encounters.
Sometimes you can gauge the type of show you are about to see by the audience. And the first thing to notice about this group was how excited they were. The queue to get into the tent started about half an hour before the doors opened. Lots of very excited looking people stood laughing together waiting to be let in. Once in, people who had seen the Briefs boys before headed to their favourite seats while everyone milled around – all the seating is unallocated. My companion and I managed to grab a couple of seats in the front row and were prepared for anything.
The lights went down and, before anything else happened, there was an almighty cheer from the audience. Then the familiar five notes from Close Encounters started up accompanied by lights and the show started.
The next hour was an absolute blur. The six, muscular and very uninhibited performers, led by the strikingly beautiful Fez Fa’anana, perform a show which is an astounding mixture of acrobatics, gymnastics, modern dance, burlesque, striptease and high camp. However, that’s not to say that this is a gay show. There is a beauty to Briefs that transcends sexuality and makes it suitable – apart from the odd ‘F’ word – for everyone. Straight, gay or somewhere on the spectrum in between, Close Encounters has something for everyone and nobody is left out.
Just on a technical level, the skill exhibited by the performers is exceptionally high. For example, could you perform a strip whilst spinning off a rope high above the stage? Me neither but Mark ‘Captain Kidd’ Winmill does with a grace and style that takes the breath away. Mix this technical skill with a real flair for showmanship and you begin to understand why Briefs is so good. As with all things acrobatic or gymnastic or circus related, spot on timing is a must. However, one of the most amazing demonstrations of timing, which really demonstrated the immense attention to detail of the show, involved a rabbit and some alarm clocks. These were very short scenes but the ability to synchronise every movement of the rabbit with the alarms ringing and do so with such ease must take hours and hours of practice. One portion of a second out and the illusion is ruined.
With such talented performers on the stage, it’s hard to pick out a personal favourite but, I will. Juggler Louis Biggs, the youngest of the troupe, is my choice. He looks amazing, dances, juggles, does a Rubik’s Cube one-handed and even throws a little science in. And while doing all of this, Louis manages to spectacularly flirt with every member of the audience he makes eye contact with.
Without giving too much more away, I have to conclude with two things. Briefs: Close Encounters is a truly awesome mixture of styles and skills that will entertain and enthrall you in equal measure. And secondly, when you go to see it, buy a raffle ticket. You may not win but if you do, the prize will be so worth it.
Since July 2014, I've seen and reviewed 588 shows altogether. 2017 was a fairly quiet year with a total of 132 shows visited by yours truly.
So, in the best traditions of end of the year ideas, here is my list of the top 10 shows that I've seen this year. Please remember, this is my list not anybody else's and if you don't agree with the pick, well, what can I say?
1.Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Bridewell Theatre This story of friendship and hope took two drag queens and a trans woman from Sydney to Alice Springs, in a big pink bus. Along the way, the met new friends and face rampant homophobia. SEDOS brought every element of the show together beautifully, and to a standard that you would expect to see in the West End. Sold out virtually as soon as it was announced, this was the ‘must see production of the year. 2.La Cage aux Folles, New Wimbledon Theatre This is was a touring production of a show that demonstrates the importance of family and how much a parent will s…
Southern Baptist Sissies
Above the Stag is a theatre that specialises in putting on LGBT+ shows. I’ve been there a couple of times previously and seen some very well produced and very funny plays about gay life. So, I was really looking forward to another visit last night to see their latest show, the European premiere of Southern Baptist Sissies by Del Shores.
This is the story of four people emerging from childhood and becoming adults. These boys are all from the great state of Texas – the ‘buckle’ in the bible belt – and all are regular attendees at their small town Baptist church presided over by a real old fashioned ‘wrath of God’ style preacher (Stephen Parker). The four boys are all really good friends who each bring something different to the group. So, there is preacher’s son Mark (Jason Kirk) the thinker, TJ (Daniel Klemens) the brawn, Andrew (Hugh O’Donnell) the introverted and…
A theatre show is often like a swan. Out on stage, all is serene and beautiful whilst backstage there is a hive of activity going on. There have been various shows written about life backstage at a theatre – Noises Off springs to mind, though I’ve still not got around to seeing it. However, if you would like to see life backstage during a Christmas show, then you can do no better than toodle off to the Waterloo East Theatre to see Shaun Kitchener’s play Christmas Farce.
Thirty minutes – or in theatrical parlance, The Half – before curtain up and Alice (Natalie Lester) is the only person in the Green Room of a regional theatre. The fact it is Christmas is demonstrated not only by Alice’s OTT festive jumper but also with the gaudy decorations festooning the place. These are the handiwork of back-stage worker Makenzie (Marc-Gee Finch) and, while they are a tad tacky, they do add a sort of desperate fe…