Hot Brown Honey at Assembly Roxy is one of those shows that from the beginning interested me by the promotional artwork alone (note to people – give some serious thought to your advertising images) as it reminded me immediately of 70s films like Foxy Brown and music from that era. HBH is however nothing like this, and no nostalgia trip show, but one that sees the HBHs challenging boundaries and fighting genre stereo types in the 21st century whilst at the same time reclaiming their own cultural identities against an historical background of colonial exploitation – maybe an odd image for the artwork when I think about it as so many of the films of this genre reinforced sterotypes...maybe parody at work here?
How to describe Hot Brown Honey and the Hot Brown Honeys? Well, loud and proud pretty much sums everything up, but that loudness (the audience are invited to be very loud from the very start) was almost what put me completely off this show in the first ten minutes as against a backdrop of rap, hip-hop and a flower dance routine that could have come straight out of a Busby Berkeley choreographed musical number from a 1930s Hollywood musical there was nothing there I had not heard or seen before. Just another Fringe show thinking volume, politically correct messages and loud audience participation fuelled by pre show visits to the street bar was going to be enough. THEN THINGS CHANGED…amidst the noise and music there is a real message here of women not only fighting back against their imposed status and sexualisation but also one of the disastrous historical and ongoing effects of colonisation that has robbed native populations of their lands, mineral wealth, status and cultural identity, a system of oppression and exploitation that is still as alive and working now in the 21st century as it was 100s of years ago, and your perception of this show will depend to a large extent on your gender, sexuality and ethnic background. For someone like myself with a white Scottish background, I can try to understand what the HBHs are telling me, but I can never patronise them by saying that I share their experiences and anger at so many things; I am looking into the looking glass and they are looking out.
HBH does at times fall into its own trap of stereotyping some of the very things they are trying to break free from, but you always run that risk with a show like this. This show is also so obviously only a trimmed down touring version for the Fringe (set wise and time wise) and it would be amazing if one of the bigger theatres in town gave this show a chance to present itself in its full glory. HBH is a bit of an odd show still to me as it plays in format to a mainly young cabaret going audience who have maybe had more than the odd drink pre-show, and I hope amidst the audience participation, noise and clapping along to hip-hop and rap that some people are listening to the words being read from books and performed on stage…there is another very serious layer to this show lying just beneath the surface if you only take the time to listen.
There is an often repeated line in this show – “You Are Not The Maid”. What does it mean? Well to me, two meanings – 1 woman is more than just a home domestic , but 2, one of the end results of colonisation is often that for many original cultures of a country they are reduced to the roles of domestics serving their new colonial rulers…there is a simple, short and powerful message here. Some people might just take this show at its loud and superficial level (and there is nothing wrong with doing just that), but there is much more to this show and I hope some people at least leave the show questioning some things and maybe looking at them from a new perspective.
Hot Brown Honey is an adult themed show, so check with the venue age suitability if you are planning to bring younger people to the show.
Review by Tom King