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Hot Brown Honey

Award-winning and label-defying, the Honeys mix theatrical spectacle with social activism.

Matthew Drummond
Online Editor

“The only variety of music that’s not in our show is country. And I’m working on it,” say Lisa Fa’alafi, one of the creators of the stereotype-smashing juggernaut that is Hot Brown Honey.

Acclaimed by reviewers, Hot Brown Honey never gets described in quite the same way twice. It’s a mash up of hip-hop, burlesque, poetry and comedy, attached to a rocket launcher of feminist and First Nations empowerment. A crisp definition eludes even Fa’alafi herself. “We find it hard to describe our work,” she says. “We really like the name of the award we got at the Edinburgh Fringe [Festival]; 'Innovation, Experimentation and Playing with Form.'"

What is clear is that the show is both extremely funny and very political – the former allowing the performers to tackle the latter with gusto.  Starring six women of Australian Aboriginal, South African, Tongan and Samoan descent, the ‘Honeys’ have plenty to say. Fa’alafi, the show’s director and co-creator along with musical director Kim ‘Busty Beatz’ Bowers, says the work came together with a force of its own. 

“Myself and Busty had been making work for 20 odd years, in and out of big theatres, small theatres, fringe festivals, nightclubs,” she says. “And we just got sick of not having our own platform that we could work in. Without really trying, all of our work looks at our identity. And we were working in a colonised process. We wanted to create a space where we could claim it as our own, where we could work in circumstances relevant to us.” 

"Without really trying, all of our work looks at our identity"

Lisa Fa'alafi, director of Hot Brown Honey

What started small grew gradually, picking up more performers along the way. Hot Brown Honey performed at the Woodford Folk Festival in 2015 and got five star reviews at both the Adelaide Fringe and at the Opera House in 2016. It was hailed as one of the must-see shows of last year's Edinburgh Fringe.   

“The women in Hot Brown Honey are all queen bees out to sting male assumptions and privilege, question outmoded attitudes and make links between different kinds of oppression,” wrote Lyn Gardner in The Guardian. “Smashing the patriarchy has never seemed quite so much fun.”

Fa’alafi is pumped to be returning to the Opera House with a show that will, with a few additions, be similar to their first sold-out season.

There aren’t many shows on stage that broach topics like domesic violence and the lingering violence of colonisation. Even fewer do so from the perspective of brown women. Fa’alafi thinks the show's success is partly driven by a greater appetite to talk politics, spured on by where politics has been headed.

“White audiences are ready for this,” she says.

But what of audience members from the performers’ own culture, which can be conservative, particularly around matters of sex? (Male homosexuality is illegal in many Polynesians states.) Fa’alafi agrees that they can be conservative, but laughter always wins.  

“When there’s an aunty in the audience, or someone older, I can spot them a mile away, I can see how that reads," she says. "Humour is a huge part of our language. Our show is very entertaining, there’s a lot of funny. We’re just managing to push those boundaries.”

Hot Brown Honey returns to The Studio at Sydney Opera House from 7 June to 25 June. 

Hot Brown Honey
Serving up an audacious platter of dance, poetry, comedy, circus, striptease and song, Hot Brown Honey returns. Unapologetically fierce, Hot Brown Honey defiantly shatters clichés in an explosion of colour, culture and controversy.

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