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Tap Dogs -- Capitol Theatre

What the bloody hell has Tap Dogs got to do with a drag show (Briefs), or an almost epic piece of ‘visual’ theatre (Soap)? Well, ok, not that much, necessarily, but having seen these three back-to-back, I was struck by coincidences; aesthetic and athletic.

The Doggies are back to bask in the glory reflected by the appreciation of the rest of the known universe. Well may they soak up the limelight, having wowed 11 million people around the globe. And the acclaim hasn’t been restricted to the excitement of the great unwashed; critics, too, have lauded ’em with more than enough heavyweight awards to fill Santa’s sack and have him screaming for elfen assistance. Much of the appeal might be down to sheer glamour: fronting the six-pack is movie idol, matinee or otherwise, Adam Garcia, but there’s no way you can fake this level of expertise and Garcia is much, much more than a pretty face.

I can’t pretend to be a tap afficionado, but I certainly can’t recall seeing anything better, in the flesh, or via any medium, than what Dein Perry’s now ubiquitous supertroupe can turn out. By way of pertinent comparison, try as I might (but I don’t), I just can’t get excited about watching cricket. But even if you figure there’s no way you could sit through 80 minutes of tap, TDs are liable to prove you very wrong. Apart from skill that’ll knock your socks for six, their fitness and almost acrobatic athleticism is breathtaking; especially since they at least seem to all be on stage practically all the time.

It’s good, honest, down-to-earth, lighthearted, (dare I say) family entertainment, rated G, for (bloody) great. Oh sure, there are lapses here and there, but of blink-like duration. And yes, the dance is bolstered by the multifariously-talented Nigel Triffitt’s ‘industrial’ design, involving scaffolding, power tools, VB, water and girl drummers hoisted high on a podium, along with their huge kits (so to speak); pulsating eye candy that reverberated in the memory, conjuring dizzying zooms on ancient studio cameras, trained on ’60s go-go dancers, shimmying and shimmering in glorious black-and-white. Well, that’s what it did for me, anyway. What effect do you expect, on a mere male, from something so primal and percussive?

While Tap Dogs are real blokes, or at least pretending to be, the blokes in Briefs, the following evening at the Sydney Opera House Studio, in a show almost the same length but of profoundly diferent character, didn’t pretend to be anything other than drag artists, but there’s much more to this bent, candy-coloured troupe than miming to the Priscilla soundtrack.

While Tap Dogs tends towards the gymtastic, Briefs is thoroughly and breathtakingly acrobatic, with feats of unimaginable strength: these boys have been really flogging their ab trainers (so to speak). This is, indeed, ballsy burlesque, seven all-beef laddies forming a sexy pseudo-circus that runs colourfully, characterfully comedic rings around trad tricks like plate-spinning. It’s sobering to see a sophisticated, uptown audience as totally taken as a gullible sideshow alley assembly of old. That alone is probably worth the price of admission.

These naughty boys could’ve singlehandedly given Brisvegas, the minor metroplis from which they hail, its glitzy colloquial nickname; but they aren’t just would-be glamour pussies, there’s gold underneath the glitter, talent to go with the testosterone, that apparently outed itself at the Melbourne and Adelaide Fringes, Brizzy and Woodford folk festivals.

Awards have been forthcoming and fans falling at the high-heeled feet of MC Fez Faanana (and co), attired by leading designer ‘Saint’ Vincent de Paul (let’s hope it’s bespoke, as I wouldn’t want to see this kind of kitsch ‘cottoning on’, at Katies, like a fashion flu). The fine-feathered boa constrictor Fez’s foulmouthed flurry between acts varies from pointed and political, to playful, to paltry. At his best, he’s an engaging clever-dick but not even references to humble speakeasy origins in the back of a bookstore can excuse ums, ahs and pauses now this company has hit the professional hotspots: it doesn’t get much hotter than the cabaret-formatted SOH Studio, surely. Not even Fez’s easygoing charm, outrageous likability, or successive costume changes licks that failing.

But noone could fault the acts he introduces: from the thrill of adventurous trapeze staged over a table right above the audience to improbable hula-hooping triumphs; meat raffles to barely watchable, bloody vilm of a traditional Samoan tattooing ritual that extends for days and days; good-natured pisstakes on clueless, homophobic bogans entranced and entrapped by shemales to pornographic ballads.

It should be said if you’re fainthearted or sensitive, particularly in relation to sexual allusions unmediated by the cool breeze of euphemism, you’d be well-advised to take your smelling-salts. Nudity, offensive language and gobsmacking feats of riotously ribald agility: yes kids, there’s something in it for all of you, too!

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Briefs -- Sydney Opera House Studio

Of similar length again is Soap. If Briefs is of mostly white-trash, high-camp quality, Soap aspires to high culture: ‘though seasoned with comedy, it introduces and fuses elements of opera, the (bathroom) balletic and acrobatic. The result is, by turns, breathtaking, poetic, romantic, sensual and sexy. Who knew feet could juggle? Or hands could juggle as well as these? Who would’ve suspected an innocent bysitter, surprised to be plucked from the audience, would turn out to be a sublime dancer? Who knew we could see and hear angels sing, while still living?

And, like Tap Dogs, there’s water, water, everywhere. Even the audience is splished and splashed a little. Who knew bath time could prove so elegant and beautiful, albeit sometimes in very raw, raunchy ways, or that there was so much more to it than a washcloth and rubber ducky? The music and song ranges from sublime to just a little bit silly but, as with the Briefs soundtrack, it’s carefully conceived, considered and very satisfying, whether your predilections run to Sia, or Simone; Screamin’ Jay, or Goldfrapp. Also like Briefs, there are aerial straps, showy gymnastics (one or two positions pay unwitting homage) and trapeze.

My advice? If your entertainment budget can stretch to it, splash out and immerse yourself in all three. Strip down to your briefs and soap-up, dog!

The details: The Tap Dogs plays the Capitol Theatre in Sydney until February 6 — tickets through Ticketmaster. Briefs is at the Sydney Opera House Studio until January 15 — tickets on the SOH website. Soap is also at the Sydney Opera House (in the Drama Theatre) until January 30.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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