Writer: Lisa Fa’alafi and Kim Bowers
Director: Lisa Fa’alafi
Reviewer: Nina Reece
Hot Brown Honey is unlike anything you’ve ever seen. It’s part variety show, part pantomime, has roots in burlesque, comedy and circus, is steeped in the politics of race, gender, and identity, and somehow still manages to be light of heart. Brainchild of Lisa Fa’alafi and Kim Bowers (aka Busty Beats), the show was born in the underground clubs of Australia, where theatre by women of colour if often relegated to the fringes. While this omission is a huge loss for Aussie theatre, it incubated the talent, enabling the producers to connect with other creators and strengthen a cast that now also includes singer Ofa Fotu, contemporary dancer Elena Wangurra, beatboxer Hope Haami, and aerialist Crystal Stacey.
The show opens with the cast in full hip-hop dance mode, Run DMC tracksuits juxtaposed with beaming smiles and sunflowers shaken in perfect synchronicity, until the beat is flipped, and the tracksuits are stripped off to reveal maid’s outfits as the sunflowers hit the floor and are replaced with signs that scream, conversely: ‘I am not the maid’. This is the first of many stereotype-smashing, binary-crushing and genre-defying numbers belted out by a troupe of insanely talented performers. Highlights include a hoop routine by a ‘Straya Becky’, an original take on a strip tease by a not-so-original ‘hula’ dancer, and a deeply moving, incredibly brave aerial performance that had the audience both in tears and on their feet.
Though there are times when the reliance on call and response wears thin, the slogans of the show hit their mark halfway between hilarious and furious: ‘make way for the matriarchy’, ’decolonise and moisturise’, ‘the revolution will not happen without childcare’, — you don’t have to be a femme of colour to appreciate that this is a show prioritising topics often swept under the rug but that affect so many. Indeed, the Queen Elizabeth Hall audience was as diverse as the show’s soundtrack and equally as riotous. Perhaps, however, the venue itself was the only part to miss its mark; if at times the cast feels distant it is because they are, and without screens the nuances of this very physical theatre is easily missed by at least half of the room.
Sick and tired of being offered backroom bars and token roles, the Hot Brown Honey ensemble have created a show that challenges tropes, inspires its audience, and entertains thoroughly. Their work is now centre stage, place it at the centre of the right stage and it may well be shining a light into dark corners for years to come.
Runs until Saturday 28 July 2018 | Image: Dylan Evans