Review: Hot Brown Honey ****

Hot Brown Honey

Cabaret and Variety

Gilded Balloon Teviot

Aug 10th to 27th (Not 15th or 23rd)

19:30

**** 4 Stars

Hot Brown Honey is produced by Briefs Factory, an Australian collective that creates political party punk performances inspired by circus, drag, dance, burlesque, hip-hop and comedy. Energetic and astute, the show promotes the rights of women and indigenous peoples, including but not limited to: self-determination, bodily autonomy, and an often-omitted prerequisite for the revolution – affordable childcare. Offering powerful as well as practical solutions to the problem of the patriarchal values continuing to permeate society, Hot Brown Honey flies its flag on firm feminist territory.

The show sounds like a mash-up between the empowerment of nineties girl power and the political stylings of early hip-hop, expanded to include twenty-first century ideas about intersectionality. Centre-stage is an interlinking hexagonal DJ-booth (the ‘hive’), which also serves as a backdrop light-show and a throne worthy of the ‘Queen Bee’ herself, DJ Busty Beatz. Her vocal delivery is mischievous and delicious, but her in-your-face audience-interactions seem incongruous with this literary Edinburgh audience. Her biggest hit, “Don’t touch my hair,” hammers home the message through the medium of an impressively silly wig.

Inappropriate behaviour abroad takes a bashing in the first act, with Crystal Stacey’s satirical hula-hoop performance as a ‘typical Australian’ on holiday, treating the indigenous people they meet as personal maids. Her dance skills are remarkable, and I enjoy her character’s energy. On a similar note, Lisa Fa’alafi performs a reverse-strip burlesque piece, which turns the anthropological myth of the ‘primitive native’ on its head in a thoughtful yet comical transformation story. During Ofa Fotu’s exposition on the place of the Golliwog in British society, the pace of the show dips though – from feisty and fierce, to solemn and reflective. While this sudden shift may be necessary, it feels somewhat jarring.

The multiple overlapping political statements in Hot Brown Honey are delivered with almost boundless rage. It could not be any other way, given the intertwining themes of dehumanisation and injustice. Thankfully, and with a collective sigh of relief, this tension is also periodically released, mostly by beatboxer Hope Haami. Her attitude is titillating and the character she creates is particularly pleasing to watch. Overall, Crystal Stacey emerges as the most proficient entertainer of the troupe, especially in her second solo performance – a textured, dynamic and memorable aerial silk show about the struggles of sexual assault.

With any depictions of intersectionality, sometimes a clear message becomes mixed, as it struggles to represent and address everything and everyone. The multiplicity of cultural tropes is confusing at times, reductive at others, with American, Australasian and British symbolism vying for room on the stage. And I am sure this was not intentional, but the number of flags-as-costumes suggests a Miss World pageant at times. This version of the show has been touring for a few years – perhaps now is the time to rejuvenate the hive.

Review by Joanne Harrison