Briefs: Close Encounters is bonkers, bizarre and brilliant – but a bit of a bodge-job when it comes to the cement that should bind this all together. An outside eye might’ve helped the company with this, but you’ll be in good company – and will get more than an eyeful – at this acrobatic, enigmatic glitterbomb of an evening.
Briefs is back! For a limited run at Southbank’s ever-exciting Underbelly, you can catch the beautiful boys from Oz in all their whirling, twirling glory. And with equal amounts skin and skill, they won’t disappoint.
Briefs started life as a speakeasy in the bowels of Brisbane’s alternative variety scene that set out to test drive innovative, late night cabaret acts. In 2010, the troupe transitioned to a formal performance ensemble, creating their first full-length work. Since then, Briefs have swaggered, shimmied, swished and swung all over the world, selling out in London, Berlin, Paris and across Australia. Their new show, Close Encounters, warns audiences they’re “upping the ante” and to “expect the unexpected” with exciting new cast members.
There is – and should be – no denying it: the performances in Close Encounters are technically astounding. The performers themselves are highly and multi-skilled, lifting and twisting, turning and churning their bodies into shapes and symbols, one after another. It is a display of Olympic athleticism, mathematic precision, and unabashed eroticism.
Thomas Worrell is a complete standout in terms of aerial ability, contorting his taut body at great heights and in different directions, defying both gravity and the audience’s beliefs. Louis Biggs is cherubic, charming and fast fingered, while Thomas Gundy Greenfield breaks down the barriers between burlesque, performance art and contemporary dance.
Unfortunately, however, the overall journey is a bit of a bumpy ride, with the piece stuttering and hostess Shivannah spluttering to start. Depth and narrative are crowbarred uncomfortably into the piece. The David Hoyle-esque Peace and Love polemic, supported lazily by the concept of the troupe travelling not from Oz but from a future, better, more glamorous world, is as hackneyed as it is clunky. Some individual pieces struggle with tempo: endings rarely pop or land, dances fizzle away and performers leave the stage without fully climaxing. The audience get brought to the brink but fail to finish.
The soundtrack is sublime. The infusion of classic queer disco, pop and more ethereal and spoken pieces is the perfect nod to the audience and their sensibilities without lowering the tone or the show’s value. As Director Fez Faanana comments: “Think less party-trashy and much more warped.”
The performers and their skills are exquisitely lit, with complex, striking and rapid states that put many West End shows to shame – especially considering we’re essentially in a decked-out marquee. Set pieces are compact and cute: a barber’s chair, a bird cage, a lamp and a laboratory. And what look to be those two random MDF structures your dad refuses to throw out from the garage finally transform into beautiful, tilting light apparatuses, descending to cameo as the sides and wings of a spaceship.
As expected, costumes are sexy and sassy. While Gundry Greenfield’s esoteric dance is playfully enhanced by basic anti-boylesque white tees, most costumes think less with the head more with the (juggling) balls, in the case of Louis Biggs.