Image: the Brown Honey company in all their tracksuited glory
I’d been hearing about this show for some time. After completing seasons both here in Melbourne and around the world, Hot Brown Honey was finally back in Melbourne. I wasn’t about to miss it again – and I’m so very, very glad I didn’t.
This show is spectacular, in the truest sense of the world. After centuries of their identities and cultures being colonised and commodified, these women fight back from within themselves. It’s intelligent, forceful, important, and deeply entertaining.
The Brown Honey company contextualise themselves openly and generously. Raffle tickets are sold before the show to pay for childcare for the mothers in the company, and Boonwurrung elder Aunty Caroline Briggs took the stage at the beginning of the show to give a generously detailed welcome to country. The audience was unified, present, and we thought we were ready for what was to come. A lot of us probably weren’t.
The show is composed of short, rapid-fire acts, each utilising the myriad skills of one or more of the performers (everything from circus skills to beat-boxing to complex costume gags) to take on cultural tropes and assumptions at the intersections of gender, race, culture and class (and probably others too) and subverting these tropes through (re)presenting them from a place of embodied experience and ownership. Each act is deeply layered, playful but biting. In the (paraphrased) words of the event’s MC, Busty Beatz, the show teased us into challenging our views.
Despite the fact that many of the acts are solo acts, this is truly an ensemble show, and every member of the company shone brilliantly. The production felt well paced and composed – a challenge with such a fragmentary structure – and it felt like we as the audience stayed well and truly with the performance from start to finish. Most of Hot Brown Honey is uproariously funny, but there is more sombre content too. A routine involving Alexis West’s unravelling of the Australian flag to reveal the red, black and yellow beneath was received with a little more sobriety than the rest of the show, and a straps routine by Crystal Stacey inspired by the story of the now-famous 911 Pizza Delivery call left me sobbing. Like the woman in the 911 story, the Honeys take the corners the patriarchy has backed them into and use them with extreme ingenuity and bravery, rather than being trapped or defined by them. I laughed and I cried, and I did both hard.
This is a show for everyone. It is crafted and presented by women of colour, defiantly decolonising their bodies and identities. And though certain demographics and colonial constructs are firmly in the firing line, the Honeys have created a space for listening, for learning, for laughter and noise and dance, for everyone who is willing to make noise and dance with them. It is fierce, and it is also a generous gift. Hot Brown Honey balances so many identities, and through the plethora of identities presented, makes room for plurality beyond the work, in the audience and the world.
Rating: 5 stars out of 5
Hot Brown Honey
Presented by Arts Centre Melbourne in association with Briefs Factory
Performers: Kim ‘Busty Beatz’ Bowers, Lisa Fa’alafi, Materharere Hope ‘Hope One’ Haami, Alexis West, Ofa Fotu and Crystal Stacey
Arts Centre Melbourne, Fairfax Theatre
6-11 December 2016