“There is indeed something radical-feeling about so many different kinds of beauty in one show”
I bought two raffle tickets from a drag queen with a fish bowl; one guy at the front bought, like, 100. Enthusiasm was in excess at last night’s special ‘Club Briefs’ fundraiser, by Briefs Factory, the Leicester Square-based ‘boylesque’ company, to support the Terrence Higgins Trust in honour of World AIDS Day. Performers and audience members alike hollered to show their love for the cause, and the event, which consisted of half-a-dozen high-quality burlesque performances, featuring men and women, and ranging in style from comedic to soaringly acrobatic.
The acts were sexy – boy, were they – and artful. Some poked fun at cultural stereotypes, or played with the audience’s expectations of sex on stage. All the acts played with gender norms in some way or another. As one audience member, James, who welled up with tears during the final act, told me: “It’s reaching the limits of beauty, it’s crossing the lines, it’s defying things. It’s arguing with normal – it’s redefining normal. I’ve never felt normal, but I’ve never had the guts to be that far on the edge of the fringe.”
There is indeed something radical-feeling about so many different kinds of beauty in one show. Each time the curtain parted we cheered for a different skin shade, nation or culture of origin, a different skill, and a different style.
For some, Club Briefs might be a strip tease, for others, a freak show, but for everyone – and it is for everyone – Briefs Factory shows are a celebration of the human body and the personalities, cultures, quirks, and spirits that inhabit it.
Yesterday’s show concluded with a dance party, drag queens and gymnasts and audience members and starched-collar kids from the suburbs jumping and dancing together to techno-pop. Under the strobe lights, everyone was fabulous.
“Monkey’s volcanic energy in particular helped to keep engagement at a maximum”
Brat Kids Carnival is certainly not lacking in atmosphere – in a gorgeous circus-tent-esque structure in the midst of all the Christmas stalls in Leicester Square, it’s easy to get swept up in the spirit of the festivities. And although the show’s sizzling energy means it never dampens the mood, it also doesn’t always match the expectations that its surrounding grotto creates.
Brat Kids Carnival establishes Monkey (played, incidentally, by American entertainer Mr Monkey) as the MC of the proceedings, with assistance from Vicky Falconer Pritchard as the Party Panda. Even before the show starts, they interact with the audience and play a game of cat and mouse around the space; they made for an endearing pair, and Monkey’s volcanic energy in particular helped to keep engagement at a maximum. The cast is rounded out by Luke Hubbard, Crystal Stacey, and Rowan Thomas who make up the various circus acts that take place.
Unfortunately, not all of acts feel fully developed. The first is a giant purple alien singing, which while initially entertaining, never feels like it expands on its premise, and as a result the attention of the audience noticeably waned during the latter half of the act. This was not an uncommon theme, and also occurred chiefly in a hula-hooping act. Thankfully, Monkey and Party Panda’s interludes help to perk up the audience, with one segment where a child had to throw a piece of banana into Monkey’s mouth proving to be a comic goldmine.
A number of acts were also hugely entertaining – Hubbard and Thomas as a pair of flamingos trying to outdo each other was immense fun, as the act was developed beyond just a showcase of skills into a story, with reams of playfulness and character. This also stood out due to being the only double act in the show – it would’ve been great to have seen more instances where the cast interacted in the acts, and to allow mini-narratives to organically grow in this way.
Brat Kids Carnival’s design is joyous – backlighting the performers as they arrive on stage provides a sense of grandeur, which is only exacerbated by the pulsating music and magnificent costumes. It’s a shame that the content of the acts feels largely undercooked, as every other aspect is primed for top-quality family fun.