Briefs: Bite Club – Queen Elizabeth Hall at Southbank Centre, London
Who can forget the sensational marquee shows at Briefs? The world’s most glamorous drag queens, burlesque dancers, acrobats and trapeze artists tease with feather fans or sweep your head in a haze of glitter and attitude.
Their new show, Panties: Bite Club, however, must contend with a new venue – the much larger and more austere Queen Elizabeth Hall. It just doesn’t sit well with them and, as if out of sympathy, the lights continued to go out on Press Night. The first problem is that they no longer have that direct and intimate contact with the public that suited their cheeky cabaret style. Then there’s the issue of the relatively small stage. As this show features a backstage band, the play area is small. No one seems to have thought about lines of sight, so behind-the-scenes deeds are often only partially visible.
Many of our old favorites were there: the fabulous acrobatics, the shimmering fan dances, Captain Kidd’s superlative glass bath act. The audience goes wild every time. But other familiar elements fall flat, particularly The Raffle, where a hapless spectator who wins is dragged onto the stage for some unexpected fun. Invention seems to have deserted Briefs here.
But the main difference with bite club is the introduction of singer, Sahara Beck, whose show is now running. Beck is an extremely talented songwriter and performer, singing some of her terrific numbers with genuine passion. But his songs are characterized by a certain bittersweet quality. “Everyone needs someone to be sad for,” one lyric begins, “I dreamed I was beautiful” another. Most express a raw melancholy so different from Briefs’ brand sports camping. Beck is clearly outside of her comfort zone when it comes to speaking directly to the public, including the awkward fairy tale she’s forced to tell about how she met Briefs. And she looks frozen with fear when asked to sing a number perched on a trapeze. So despite efforts to tie together the two components of the series, Briefs’ physical extravagance and Beck’s ballads, they simply don’t work together.
Fez Faanana, director and co-founder of Briefs, in extravagant drag is a splendid presence. But he’s not a natural stand-up. His various oral interventions seem clumsy, under-rehearsed and are often inaudible. And surely the actors should have learned by now that the references to the pandemic are outdated?
Until July 31, 2022