At York Theatre until January 27, 2018
Tickets from $22 at tickets.thecultch.com/604-251-1363
Part circus, part burlesque and part feminist rally, Hot Brown Honey is a sassier, rowdier, louder show than I’ve ever experienced. The feminist rallies I used to go to were nothing like it; we were focused on getting control over our reproductive lives and protesting wage disparity. We were so serious. (And the whole ‘goddess’ thing hadn’t happened yet. If women are goddesses then does that mean men are gods? The responsibilities women – and men – face are daunting enough without adding ‘goddess’ and ‘god’ to their job descriptions.)
I digress. Back to Hot Brown Honey.
Visually, the show’s a stunner. The set, by designer Tristan Shelly, looks like the inside of a honeycombed hive with huge hexagonal clusters of ‘cells’. Computer-programmed, the cells are sometimes all brilliantly illuminated; at other times individual clusters spell out words like NO or NOISE. Messages scurry by like ticker tape. Yellow cells. Red cells. Blue cells. Words. Shapes. The kaleidoscope of glow-in-the-dark colours is constantly changing: flashing lights, big music and ferocious action everywhere.
Perched atop the hive is DJ and mistress of ceremonies Busty Beatz aka Queen Bee (also creator, writer, musical director, composer and sound designer) whose mantra is “Fighting The Power Never Tasted So Sweet”. Big, bold and fearless, Beatz drives the show forward.
Hot Brown Honey is a feminist call to arms; more specifically it’s a rallying cry for women of colour. If white women think we have it bad, that doesn’t remotely compare to the struggle of women of colour. The show is also a fierce rant against stereotyping, racism and colonialism. In one segment a dancer, tightly bound in the Union Jack, struggles to break free – which she does, right down to her bare boobs.
These six indigenous women from Down Under don’t pull any punches. Don’t be surprised when the audience is addressed as “Motherfuckers.” The show, a production of Briefs Factory (Australia) and presented by the Cultch, is raunchy, proud and loud.
Is it possible for something to be so loud you can’t hear it? Yes. Earplugs, handed out before the show, don’t really do it. Words – rapped or sung – are often unintelligible and you really, really do want to hear them. Otherwise, it’s hard to know – except in broad strokes – what Hot Brown Honey is on about.
Each of the six performers has an aka. Crystal Stacey is The Peacemaker and her aerials and hoops are fantastic. Her ditzy, drunk blond tourist shtick in ridiculously oversized yellow glasses is a total hoot as she twirls hoops around every part of her bikini-clad body while knocking back beverages.
Hope Haami, aka Hope One, leaves you breathless in a virtuosic display of beatboxing while Lisa Fa’alafi, aka The Game Changer (also creator, writer, director, choreography, designer) busts some romantic stereotypes in her ‘leaf’ dance, a parody of made-for-tourists South Pacific dancing. Her costume – a bunch of tropical green leaves – transforms again and again as the character evolves from a woman, whose Western-romanticized purpose is to pleasure a man, into a crazy-dancing woman, sexy in her own right.
Impressive as the colourful Hot Brown Honey spectacle is – and pretty much all of the audience the night I saw the show were on board, hollering, clapping, grooving and waving their arms in the air when encouraged to – what I came away with was an appreciation of the feminist writers quoted by Busty Beatz. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: “The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.” Audre Lorde: “We have been taught that silence will save us, but it won’t”. Dr. Angela Davis: “You have to act as if it were possible to radically transform the world. And you have to do it all the time.”
Which takes me to Gloria Steinem who, in a recent article, said activism requires “real-life, consequence-ridden work”. And “Consciousness always comes first, before action”, she reminds us. That, it seems to me is the work – and play – of cheeky, playful Hot Brown Honey: raising our consciousness of the problems women of colour have to deal with – over and above the struggle of women in general.
Hot Brown Honey is visually mind-blowing with a whole load of talent on stage including Elena Wangurra and Ofa Fotu. There’s singing, dancing, rapping and costumes changes that leave your head swiveling.
Did I have fun? Yes, but not as much as I wanted to. Hot Brown Honey is a bit like a southern Baptist revival meeting and I push back up when I’m so vigorously encouraged to “Wake up” and “Rise up”. But the raves for this show that began its life at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival keep rolling in. And audiences – men and women – are lovin’ it. Maybe this old feminist is just impatient to get on with it.