14 December 2017.
For their festive show HOME ditch the fairy at the top of a tree and give us ‘Agent of Social Change’ Busty Beatz holding forth from the summit of a full-on hive of activism.
The Hot Brown Honey hive dominates the stage, a compact structure packed with blindingly bright lights. Words flash across it, bits of it move and at its peak is Busty Beatz. From what, at various times, could be a lectern, platform, pulpit or DJ booth the show’s Queen Bee keeps everything fast-flowing and smouldering. She’s armed with useful context, tough questions and sharp wit. Busty Beatz may be blessed with hip hop wrath but she is also a bookworm – ready with words of wisdom and literary name checks. Angela Davis and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie get mentions and the latter’s quote that “the single story creates stereotypes” frames the show’s approach. Get ready for many stories that confound and undermine stereotypical views on race and gender.
Best stop and rewind here because I may be making this sound worthy as hell, which it could well be, but it’s also a huge amount of grown-up fun. Burlesque, circus skills, beatboxing, music and dance are dazzlingly deployed in the fight to unpick privilege, pull apart discrimination and challenge behaviours.
Most of the time the energy levels are as ‘up’ as the volume button on Busty Beatz’ sound design. That sometimes deafening noise is a defiant retort to society’s endless efforts to silence women. Performances are slick and delivered with pure commitment. Ofa Fotu may be subverting or appropriating the messages of the songs she is singing but she wrings emotion out of every word. Ingeniously designed, the show looks amazing but its high production values don’t crowd out the Fierce Mamas’ individual personalities. So, as well as her incredible beatboxing abilities ‘Hope One’ also gets to show off her cheeky side with some flirty audience interaction.
Now and then the dial edges down and those more subdued moments offer an alternative flavour. In an expressively choreographed piece Elena Wangurra movingly struggles to fight free from the physical restraints of the Australian flag and then cloak herself in the Aboriginal flag, as if transformed into a caped superhero. In a similarly reflective sequence, Crystal Stacey performs some breathtaking aerial acrobatics to powerfully portray one woman’s experience of domestic violence.
Director Lisa Fa’alafi cleverly co-opts the audience in on the action, and the fight for social change. From the raffle to fund cast members’ childcare, through to Fa’alafi’s pre-show ‘warning’ that this going to be more club-night than theatre, to the constant calls to ‘MAKE NOISE’, the message is clear – don’t just sit there, do something!
It often feels like a cross between an evangelical meeting and a hen night but that atmosphere allows Hot Brown Honey to ask more of its audience. The majority of those whooping, clapping and stomping their feet will also intermittently be made to squirm with discomfort.
In the quest to entertain there is the odd minor misstep and backfire. Yet, keeping a crowded auditorium so enthusiastically onside while incisively interrogating their values is no mean feat.
Fearless, resolute and downright entertaining – the women of Hot Brown Honey simultaneously raise the roof and your consciousness.
Images – Dylan Evans
One Million Stars to End Violence is a love and peace filled community project. As part of the presentation of Hot Brown Honey, the show is touring with folded paper stars created as part of the project which are installed within the corridors leading into HOME’s Theatre 1. The stars are symbols of light, courage and solidarity to end all forms of violence, including violence against women, bullying, and racism. For more information about the project and photos of previous installations go to: www.onemillionstars.net