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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Theatre review: Hot Brown Honey is a visual and auditory feast with a side order of politics

Burlesque, circus, dance, beatboxing, and hip-hop are layered with the politics of gender, race and colonialism

With its mix of burlesque, circus, dance, beatboxing, and hip-hop, on the surface Hot Brown Honey is like a really great variety show. Layered with the politics of gender, race and colonialism though, it becomes so much more.

Towering above the action is co-writer Kim “Busty Beatz” Bowers. High atop Tristan Shelly’s phenomenal beehive inspired set, Bowers oversees the action below. Providing the beats, rap-style commentary, all the while quoting the likes of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Bowers is a presence to be reckoned with. And all that before she even dons her larger-than-life padded suit and untouchable afro.

On the stage below, the other five show-off their skills as performers, while simultaneously taking direct aim at a multitude of stereotypes and injustices.

First up is a group striptease which takes burlesque to a whole new level, where what is beneath the feathers is both surprising and hilariously rebellious.

In fact, shattering stereotypes through humour and subversion is a big part of what makes Hot Brown Honey so successful. Reinforcing Bowers’ early proclamation that while stereotypes are not necessarily bad, they are always incomplete, it is here where the show is at its most engaging and constantly surprising.

From Bali bogans (the Australian equivalent to the boorish American tourist) lampooned with the aid of a spectacular hula hoop routine from Crystal Stacey, to a striptease which takes the piss out of “dusky maiden” fantasies from Lisa Fa’alif, the Honeys have hit on a formula that works.

While much of Hot Brown Honey is a cacophony of music and visuals, one of most chilling scenes comes from aerialist, Crystal Stacey. In this relatively subdued number, its themes of domestic violence are as terrifying as Stacey’s high-flying performance.

Other highlights include of Ofa Fotu’s deliciously ironic performance of James Brown’s It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World in a picaninny costume, and Hope Haami’s lesbian-infused beat boxing.

When all six come together in the end, the almost celebratory nature of this very quick 75-minutes is hard to ignore. This is not a celebration of victory though, but one of community. The rallying cry to “make some noise” sends us into the streets with a mission, with the realization we are not only a little better off after having spent some time in the hive, but in also knowing we can also make a difference.

Hot Brown Honey by Kim Bowers and Lisa Fa’alifi. Directed by Lisa Fa’alifi. A Briefs Factory production, presented by The Cultch. On stage at the York Theatre (639 Commercial Dr, Vancouver) until January 27. Visit for tickets and information.

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