Writer: Busty Beatz, Lisa Fa’alafi, Yami Lofvenberg and A League of Extraordinary Femmes
Director: Lisa Fa’alafi
Reviewer: Maryam Philpott
There could be no better time for Femmes of Colour to debut their latest show Hive City Legacy; with the anniversary of the arrival of the Windrush generation, celebrations to mark a century of women’s suffrage and this week’s visit by the most controversial American President of modern times, female activism is at its height. Femmes of Colour’s London-centric approach explores identity, crisis and mutual support. More than just a show, this is weaponised theatre.
Hive City Legacyunites nine artists bringing a range of skills and approaches to a series of sketches, songs and commanding dance performances. While the show begins with a wistful Puck-like figure opening a set of hexagonal boxes each leading to a new piece of content, it soon becomes clear that each scenario is part of a series of educative pieces designed to induct the newcomer into the highs and lows of London life.
What happens next is extraordinary, a side door opens, and the remaining eight women appear as a military unit, marching onto the stage to perform a coordinated dance combining hip hop moves with a powerful tribal intensity that is both fierce and uplifting. Each performer carries a backpack with their collective bee logo which they use like Roman army shields in battle formation to emphasise their shared communal empowerment. Less than five minutes into the show and vast swathes of the audience are screaming and whooping in solidarity, inspired by what they see.
Frequently throughout Hive City Legacy music, comedy and even circus are combined in distinct thematic sections, flowing smoothly from one art form to the next. A choral version of God Save the Queen quickly merges into a mock anthropology lesson on how to be British, as the uninitiated are taken through the dos and don’ts of modern London by well-to-do Beatrice who speaks the Queen’s English and her East End friend Stacey. This is clever reverse satire, reminding us that we make shallow assumptions about people at our peril.
Among this group of artists – Aminita Francis, Dorcas A. Stevens, Elsabet Yonas, Farrell Cox, Koko Brown, Krystal Dockery, Rebecca Solomon, Shakaiah Perez and Sherika Sherard – the tone changes frequently and easily as zany humour gives way to more melancholy or direct political discussion, including a performance poem about a white man’s predatory stare on the Underground, “drenched in sweat and privilege” in which he only sees her as generic exoticism, a violation of her body and her personality.
“I am not a fetish” the group chant in a later section as a cacophony of insults builds-up to a physical attack, a painful insight for the Puck-like protagonist into the racist underbelly of modern Britain, but Femmes of Colour insist that mutual support is the key. A melancholic circus performer cannot make her ropes behave until a friend lends a hand, similarly, in a final section, each woman speaks about her experience of accepting herself, before dragging most of the audience onto the stage for a final dance.
“Everyone here is a Queen” they tell us and the audience erupts once more. If you’ve never seen the Femmes of Colour before then the near continual wild reaction from the room can be daunting, the force of Beatle-mania in a tiny Roundhouse auditorium. It’s all pretty raw, but it’s impossible not to be moved by the strength of the message, and the very smart approach to inspiring a room of people to not just to be who they are but to celebrate it. Everyone is welcome in the Hive and that’s the kind of Britain we all want to live in.
Runs until 21 July 2018 | Image: Contributed