Jaw dropping high octane male burlesque Age guidance: Suitable for adults only After a dazzling sell-out run in 2014, the all-male burlesque phenomenon Briefs returns this summer for a fourth time to London Wonderground. Hosted by Shivannah (Fez Faanana), a feisty antipodean drag queen, the fun starts even before you walk in to the fabulously big topped Spiegeltent currently sandwiched between the Royal Festival Hall and London Eye. There can’t be too many places you can sup a pre-show glass of Prosecco sitting in a fairground waltzer eyeballing a nearly naked male burleque dancer, can there? This is one theatrical soiree you really do want to arrive at early – when they call you, get in line fast to get the very best of the unreserved seating.
Shivannah is “quite famous on the Gold Coast and in Ipswich” – and Ipswich Queensland is ten times worse than Ipswich here. With gags like that, the early part of the show feels a little like a souped-up version of a night out at the Vauxhall Tavern. What Shivannah does so cleverly though is to put the audience (male and female) simultaneously on edge and at their ease, letting us know we’re in for a very naughty night out. To our great delight, she asks the audience to enjoy Briefs with their iBalls rather than their iPhones – and it would take a very brave (or foolish) audience to disrespect Shivannah.
Opening the show is a Chicago-esque fan dance of which Billy Flynn himself would be proud. It loses a little if you’re sat too far to the side – bag a seat on the entrance-side of the tent for the full effect. In fact, that’s probably a good tip for the whole night although there are no bad seats as such. If you’re feeling brave, the front row will leave you breathless if slightly damp – we won’t give you the full blow by blow account, but you’ll definitely need a rub down by the end of the evening.
The deliciously bendy Thomas Worrell takes the first solo slot of the night. Part contortionist, part acrobat, part aerial killer, what this boy can’t do with a ring probably shouldn’t be tried – his act truly is death defying with elements of ballet and breakdance so astounding that Billy Elliot would probably go back to boxing in defeat. Oh, and it’s all done twenty feet up in the air. Next to blow the roof off the Spiegeltent is Louis Biggs. Imagine a Covent Garden street entertainer cum very naughty schoolboy: He can do a Rubiks Cube in 13 seconds you know – and in case you’re wondering what else he can do with those dextrous digits, well you’re about to find out… and you’ll never look at a Yo-Yo the same way again.
You’d be forgiven for getting a little hot under the collar (the Briefs boys haven’t even warmed up yet) – or for thinking you must be dreaming . Like that dream you had when Lady Gaga got trapped on a treadmill in a wind tunnel, and then three S&M pet dogs performed How Much Is That Doggy In The Window while doing their business? No, you don’t remember that? Well come along to London Wonderground and it will all come flooding back!
Speaking of floods, you might want to wear something waterproof for what scantily-clad trapeze specialist Mark Winmill is planning to drop into your cocktail. There are only so many words to describe what seeing a grown man thrashing about in a giant G&T can do, and none of them is printable here. There’s so much more to this show than boylesque – but don’t take our word for it – go see for yourselves! You may be shocked, but you definitely won’t be disappointed. Special nods from this reviewer to Evil Hate Monkey who has made me look at Bananas in a completely new way, and to Dallas Dellaforce, who not only spins straw into gold in creating the show’s eye-popping costumes, but also creates a schizophrenic Marilyn Monroe-on-acid of Leigh Bowery-esque proportions, who wouldn’t look out of place in either the Yumbo Centre or the Betty Ford Clinic.
Briefs could so easily have become a tacky, trashy and slightly naff night out. In less talented hands it might well have done. But while the show may attract the odd hen party and Shivannah may fluff a few lines (and possibly some of the boys) here and there, somehow it just doesn’t matter. Once you get past the naughtiness of the whole thing, what you’re left with is a charming, loveable, goofy bunch of insanely talented circus performers doing what they love. Spellbinding. Until Sunday 27 Sept 2015 http://www.southbankcentre.co.uk/whatson/briefs-90030