Cabaret and Variety review: Briefs; Briefs Factory Presents: Sweatshop

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Briefs first came to the Fringe in 2011, a shoestring troupe from Australia’s Gold Coast offering a down-and-dirty mixture of drag, boylesque, street politics and circus skills, all delivered with a smirk and a big sloppy kiss.

Star rating: ****

Venue: Assembly Hall (Venue 35); Underbelly’s Circus Hub on the Meadows (Venue 360)

Their shows have got bigger and shinier and the overt politics have given way to more polished circus spectacle but the fierce defiance and glorious perversion remain intact, not least in the effortless sass of compere Shivannah. This year they’re budding moguls as well, producing two other ensemble shows: the awesome Hot Brown Honey at Assembly Roxy and Sweatshop at Underbelly Circus Hub.

The gang’s own show this year sees them on fine form. Shivannah remains the heart of the night, blending down-to-earth character with dry asides and ridiculous outfits. Fans of the show will recognise a few signature acts, including Mark ‘Captain Kidd’ Winmill’s sensational birdbath act, Louis Biggs’s delirious hot-nerd yoyo striptease, Evil Hate Monkey’s impressive turn as a ballerina gone wild and a catwalk dog show that gleefully tips things into full-on queer scandal. Thomas Worrell delivers a highly impressive aerial hoop act that borders on contortion (in skintight jeans that border on illegal) while Lucky Tom, whose resentful butler act is fun.

It’s a shame not to have more of Winmill’s energy throughout the show, and Valerie Hex’s grand-scale lip-synch routine feels more like a club act than a theatre piece. But, overall, Briefs are still in a league of their own when it comes to combining boylesque, circus, acrobatics and drag with a whole lot of filth and a dash of politics. One last word to the uninitiated – if you sit in the first few rows, bring a waterproof.

A similar warning might apply at Sweatshop. Hosted by Miss Frisky (of Frisky and Mannish), it’s got a casual, conspiratorial vibe that suits the late-night slot and the eclectic material, which ranges from sexy and polished to satirical and scatological.

Frisky is a top-notch host, cheekily working the crowd as well as a dizzying array of looks and using her fabulous voice to full effect. Other performers include outstanding beatbox from Hot Brown Honey’s Materharere Hope ‘Hope One’ Haami, grotesque sex clowning from Betty Grumble and an effusive Marlboro Man-style boylesque turn from Brett Rosengreen. Circus chops are provided by eye-catching high-heeled aerialism from Briefs’ Valerie Hex and remarkable silks work by Natano Fa’anana.

The show also takes its title seriously, though never in a po-faced way. There’s actual sweat aplenty, thanks to fluorescent aerobics-themed group numbers and an ingenious high-concept slot for guest comedians. But there’s also a sly consciousness of the iniquities of labour conditions, from the global structural inequality on which our lifestyles depend to dodgy working practices here at the Fringe. There’s even mileage in the fact that most of the show’s performers also feature in other Fringe productions: this, Frisky says, is “the Brixton market version of the high-end variety show”. It’s a characteristically self-deprecating line for a night that delivers kick-ass entertainment and a shot of political savvy without ever taking itself too seriously. The takehome is a lesson of value to all: “You can’t polish a turd but you can roll it in ethically sourced glitter”.

Briefs until 21 August; tomorrow 10:30pm. Briefs Factory Presents: Sweatshop until 22 August; tomorrow 11pm.

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