Fez Fa’anana’s all-male, Brisbane-born cabaret/circus/burlesque show Briefs has become a bit of a sensation both at home and abroad in recent years, winning rave reviews around the world and a devoted following.
On my first Briefs experience, it’s plain to see why: in a rather crowded landscape of this kind of adult variety show, Briefs takes a left-of-centre approach, not just because of the fact that it features an all-male cast, but because of the way it constantly plays with and warps the images of titillation our society has been seeing for centuries.
And there’s also the fact that the Briefs gents push it just about as far as anybody pushes it in terms of wild, explicit and daring live material.
This is probably not the Sydney Festival event to take your mother to. Although it might be the one to quietly recommend if she happens to be particularly liberally-minded.
It’s been referred to variously as boylesque, burlesque with balls, and the lovechild of RuPaul’s Drag Race and Cirque du Soleil. But none of those descriptors really expresses exactly what this show is.
Overseen by the bearded and beautiful Samoan-Australian host(ess) Fez Fa’anana, Briefs is the smartest and wildest party you’ve ever been to. There’s genderfuck drag, striptease, comedy, extraordinary acrobatic acts, and even the most brilliant (if perhaps not the most technically impressive) close-up magic you’ve ever seen.
Added to this is a strong political awareness and Fa’anana’s hilarious observations about the world and interactions with the audience.
Drag queen Dallas Dellaforce performs her wonderful split personality Stepford Wives-inspired lip-sync, which has lost none of its sparkle or power since I first saw it five years ago in a nightclub. Dallas is as beautiful as she is ruggedly handsome.
There’s also Louis Biggs’ schoolboy routine, featuring a yo-yo, a Rubiks cube, and not a whole lot else; a very naughty monkey and his banana; a group of stunt performing dogs and their glamorous mistresses; and Mark “Captain Kidd” Winmill’s magnificent bird bath routine (a plastic splash guard is provided for the first few rows).
If there’s one criticism to be made, it’s that the overall shape of the show doesn’t always feel quite as coherent as you might hope. Most of the segments have some subversion of gender, with the exception of Thomas Worrell’s excellent but rather more conventional aerial routines on both a hoop and silks. Like all of the performers, his technical skill is astonishing, and he clearly makes a lot of the audience swoon, but these two acts feel a little vanilla in this company.
But that’s a small niggle for a show which thrills and surprises its audience like few of these Spiegeltent variety extravaganzas manage to. You’re unlikely to find more fun anywhere else in the festival.
Featured image by Prudence Upton