A Very Close Encounter

Easing back into the regular routine has been slow going. After the merriment of Christmas come those few in-between days before New Year where the avalanche of celebrations have tumbled you down a slope of good wine and food leaving you not knowing which day of the week it is, or what you’re supposed to be doing with yourself. I find this an excellent time to catch up with friends, collectively breathing a sigh of relief that the year is drawing to a close. On one such day I spent an evening creating a belated mini Christmas celebration of dinner and drinks with friends. Since we were obligation free, one of them suggested we head into town for a late show. It would be rude not to.

The Spiegel Tent doesn’t sound much like a festive venue. Arriving at was literally a giant tent erected in the middle of Leicester Square itself (as part of the Underbelly Festival), I did immediately think it was like a Big Top circus tent, which in a way reflected what we were there to see.

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All of the above…

My friend had got us tickets to see Club Briefs, a cabaret show he had previously mentioned to me. In fact, he was such a fan that this would be his fourth time seeing the troupe of Australian burlesque performers; a strong endorsement indeed. As our section of the queue snaked into the tent we were lucky enough to get a seat right next to the runway style stage. The title of the show being Close Encounters, they weren’t kidding since we were close enough to the action to feel part of it. The night already felt special as we settling in, and glorious drag queens sauntered between the tables selling raffle tickets. My friend quickly bought a stack, and when I asked what the prize was, told me I’d have to wait and see.

The show started after 10pm so much of the audience was already quite merry as energetic music played and the seats all filled up. The ringmaster (costume-changer in chief) Shivannah took to the catwalk to further warm the jolly crowd. Reminding us that we were in a safe space and any inappropriate behaviour would be immediately dealt with, she welcomed us to a warm and celebratory environment. Diversity, inclusivity and humanity were the name of the game, and to endorse that she opened up the catwalk to anyone who wanted to strut.

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The captivating Shivannah

Watching other audience members work the runway, as well as unsuspecting wallflowers being encouraged to join in, the five drinks I’d already consumed that evening made me feel inclined to participate. I’m no stranger to making a fool of myself, and I can’t deny that footage of this embarrassing display exists, because thanks to my friend it does. I’m just going to deny anyone the chance of seeing it. Let’s just say: “You had to be there”.

Shivannah returned to express a similar sentiment and asked that we not use our phones during the performances. She was so engaging even with this announcement I was sad to see her leave the stage for the first performer, but he was so impressive I instantly understood why my friend has kept coming back.

A host of incredible burlesque acts followed, amazing feats of balance and skill with handstand canes, a single giant spinning hoop, multiple hula hoops, an aerial hoop, a tumbling duo and even a yo-yo act. The high glamour and impressive acrobatic skills had my jaw on the floor and my throat scratching from whooping. It felt as if they were having as much fun as us with the performers all building the energy of the room in turn. This energy was bolstered by Shivannah’s introductions for each act, which were hilarious; including a critique of an especially tacky dress she wore with awkward ruffles and tassels which she’d titled her ‘Busy Mum’ look. She’d walked onto the runway repeating this title while shaking her tasselled shoulders making me shriek with laughter.

The time flew by and suddenly we reached the end of the show and time to pick the winner of the raffle. Looking at the tickets spread out before us, my friend told me if he won, the prize would be for me. Unaware of what to expect I was doubly disappointed that not only did we not win, but someone sitting directly behind us did. Pulled onto stage, the lucky man was then treated to a lap dance provided by the full ensemble, with equally impressive dexterity as in their show performances. While the winner rose red-faced he was also grinning rather widely.

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All the tickets, none of the luck

Bringing a close to proceedings, dance music swelled and we were all encouraged to turn the space into a nightclub with the whole troupe joining us for dancing, photos and chats. I completely fan-girled at the performers we spoke to and we danced until closing.

The raucous energy of the evening was naughty and uplifting, so much so it carried us further into the early hours. “Busy Mum” has also now cemented itself as part of our vernacular. This show is a joyous marvel, the kind that can give you that festive feeling any time of the year. I’m absolutely going to become a repeat attendee, and probably with my friend right beside me.

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Superstars and fan-faces

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