“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.
“musically beautiful, but disappointing in its hollowness”
Everyone knows Anna Karenina, even if few people have read it. The grand setting of Imperial Russia and provocative story of a woman torn between desire and obligation – and Tolstoy’s exquisite prose, for those who pick up the book after watching the film – have kept Anna Karenina at the forefront of the Western literary canon for over a hundred years, and made it the subject of countless adaptations, including more than one stage show. A new musical out of Oxford University by Maria Shepard is the latest addition, and one that is musically beautiful, but disappointing in its hollowness.
Curiously, no writer is credited for this adaptation, which might be why its biggest fault is its script. Rushing from scene to scene as if it has a train to catch, the text gives the audience just enough time to understand what is happening, but not why it matters. Anna falls in love in a matter of seconds, her affair is found out just as quickly, and the whole thing resolves before you can say ‘Nikolaevich’. There is no sense of budding romance, or of building shame; there is conflict, but it is confined to a schedule.
No doubt the rushed pace of the action is due to Shepard’s efforts to tell the story from start to finish; she might have done well to look at other recent adaptations of Russian classics, like Oliver Bennett and Vladimir Shcherban’s A Hero of Our Time, Dave Malloy’s Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812; and Pyotr Fomenko’s War and Peace – The Beginning of the Novel, all of which wisely adapt only fragments of their source texts, and, in doing so, are able to fully explore the richness of the characters and their world.
There is plenty of richness to be found in this new musical, however; it just isn’t in the text. Shepard’s score is lush and expressive; intimate at times, and grand at others, it speaks louder and clearer than the book or lyrics, and displays the impressive talent of its composter. Whilst watching the show I found my attention constantly drifting over to the orchestra, because there, I felt, was where the action was.
I would be remiss also not to mention the commendable performances of the young cast, who overcame the constraints of working in such an unusual venue as St. Paul’s Church, Covent Garden and some technical difficulties. Standouts are Imogen Honey Strachan in the title role, who sings like a canary, and Jacob Griffiths as an understated but deeply charismatic Levin.