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Saturday 08 April 2017

Review: Hot Brown Honey

Posted in: Performance
By Jay Bennie - 14th February 2017

Like a nuclear bomb on Mururoa or Maralinga Hot Brown Honey exploded on the ASB Theatre stage tonight, detonating stereotypes and vapourising culturally-enforced limitations on women's lives.

It was a magnificent burlesque show with only one frustrating aspect marring its presentation as part of the Auckland Pride Festival 2017. I'll come to that aspect shortly.

As 'mother/queen bee' MC reminded the audience, stereotypes are not necessarily untrue... they're incomplete. "We will not apologise for who we are!" she would later shout out to cheers and applause.

So the Hot Brown Honey team proceeded to strip back layers of colonialism until they reached their more natural cultural roots. And sometimes they didn't stop there.

In a string of powerful, energetic vignettes they used voices, bodies, dance, humour, searing lyrics and satire to highlight how Maori, Polynesian, Asian and Aboriginal women can give the finger to convention and find their true selves... and not be afraid of who they might find they really are.

One of the more delicious moments presented a patronising (male) American 1950s travelogue commentary praising the archetypal dusky native maiden who will devote her life to husband and family. Tonight's dusky maiden rebelled and found her true, independent, self in a blend of swagger and style.

But amongst all the spirited exhortations there was a remarkably powerful act which stood out as a homage to all those women who never managed to escape and who paid the ultimate price. A frantic emergency services call indicates a woman caller is in serious trouble. The audio call ends and she screams again and again on stage. Then slowly she begins to mentally escape the torments her body is going through, soaring into the air in a wondrously ethereal aerial act that counterpointed her mind's bid for freedom against the agonising reality her body is suffering through. It was a performance that will not easily be forgotten.

Brighter moments featured sassy maids, bleach-blond bimbos, beatboxing, hula hoops, a haka, massive breasts, a leaf-blower phallus, surrealism, sharp choreography, stunning voices, snappy costume changes and all the time the status quo and privilege and imposed limitations took a thorough hammering.

It was a tremendous show, and as part of the Auckland Pride Festival surely an inspiration to every young Polynesian glbti person, particularly lesbians or trans women, who sees it.

And therein lay the frustrating aspect of this opening night of Hot Brown Honey. As far as I, and a few others of varying ethnicities, sexualities and genders I chatted with afterwards, could make out there was hardly a young Polynesian glbt or i person evident anywhere in the room, in fact there were comparatively few Hot (or otherwise) Brown People in the audience at all.

Perhaps there were heaps of comps handed out to the Audi set of Ponsonby and Grey Lynn and Parnell and St Helliers, making tonight's audience an anomaly. I really hope the next four performances will make up for that. Because it's glbti Maori and Polynesian glbti people who will connect so much more viscerally with this inspiring show than the mostly urban, white folks - like me - watching tonight could ever do.

- Jay Bennie

Jay Bennie - 14th February 2017

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