“We want the audience to be able to chose between whether they’re just entertained, or to look deeper into the notions and challenges we present; the racial content in the show, ideas of gender and masculinity. We want to raise those ideas and give people the chance to talk about it or not.”
So sayeth Shivannah, the ravishing host of Briefs, London Wonderground’s latest cabaret spectacular.
Boasting innovative circus skills from back-flips in spike heels to trouser juggling, Briefs rigorously entertains sold-out houses and contributes to the formidable modern cannon of ass-kicking Australian cabaret spearheaded by the likes of La Soiree, Cantina and The Royal Family of Strange People. Audiences can expect an exciting night of hilarious and skilful men, a pumping soundtrack and a traditional Aussie meat raffle amongst some serious muscle.
Late-night thrill seekers and shady flesh-peepers shall surely be satisfied by the supernatural beauty of Mark Winmill, demonstrating the greatest flexibility amongst the cast as he shrieks and somersaults from flouro ganguro diva to cloud-swinging trailer-park butch, equally at home on the ground as he is in the air. This charming man was not crowned Las Vegas ‘King of Burlesque’ for nothing, and he is in fine company.
Enjoying his first tour of duty with the Briefs crew, Johnny Domino holds 11 world records for strength and endurance, as well as eating 1.1 kilos of blue-cooked beef, for fun apparently. Ripping a telephone directory in half, bending an iron bar and carrying Mark and Shivannah on a pole across his shoulders, Domino celebrates the rare art of the strong-man in a simple yet stimulating display, which regrettably was one of the shortest sections of the show. Perhaps given time the act will develop to match the intricate and post-modern styles of his cohorts, although the impact of his Lycra-clad physique and cheeky homage to muscle-worship excites the crowd to cheers and wolf-whistles.
The surprising depth and sensitivity of the show is delightful, and the brotherly love between the cast is clear in their collaborative stage management and co-operative performance. Referring in detail to the origins of the show, and the realities of producing entertainment on a wing and a prayer, Shivannah acts as a fabulously dressed ambassador of cabaret, allowing acts to speak for themselves through poised and open phrasing. Acts are, in the main, literal displays with edgy styling, and Shivannah tastefully refrains from giving too many games away ahead of each turn. There are no illusions in this show, it is all bared for the audience to see; real life challenges, what it means to be a performer, the capacity of the human body for expression.
Addressing the significance of aerialist Natano Fananaa’s extensive Samoan tattoos via projected footage of the 37 hours of hand-tapped inking he endured adds to the appreciation of his high-end silks act, and I suspect I was far from the only member of the audience wanting to know just how far his commitment to his heritage, ahem, extends. “It goes all the way” he assures me after the show.
It is in Davy Sampford, champion plate-spinner and slapstick king, that Briefs achieves the most beautiful moment. Eating protein powder from the jar, Davy provides an endearing foil to the formidable parade of buff boys and flexing on which much of Briefs’ appeal is based. A slender and gentle man, reminiscent of Todd Lousio in High Fidelity, Sampford performs a tense and deliberate plate-spinning stunt that leaves the audience breathless and rigid. The sensual combination of Martha Davis’ “Total Control” and the gradual build to a dozen plates spinning simultaneously is electrifying, and the philosophical climax of this achievement literally crashing to the ground emphasizes the human and flawed motifs found woven between the physical spectacles of the night.
With an extensive UK tour taking up much of 2012, the Briefs star is clearly on the ascent. Whilst this reporter regrets missing out on the grassroots rave origins of the show, the continued popularity of Spiegeltent shows provide an exciting new step along the way for the Briefs boys and their commitment to the diversity and rawness of their troupe is sure to charm the pants off festival audiences all wet summer long.
Udderbelly, Bristo Square, Edinburgh, EH8 9AL Underbelly Box Office: 0844 545 8252
Edinburgh Fringe Box Office: 0131 226 0000 Dates: 1st – 27th August at 11.15pm (ends 12.15am). Previews: 1st – 3rd Aug. (No show 15th) Tickets: 1st – 3rd Aug: £8.00 (previews) Weekdays Mon- Weds: £10 (£9.00 concs) Thurs, Fri and Sat: £15.00 (£14 concs)