Revolutionary revelations

One the Bear (La Boite, Campbelltown Arts Centre and Black Honey Company)

La Boite Theatre, Roundhouse Theatre

October 10 – 21

In true international award-winning Black Honey Company style, “One the Bear” bursts upon the audience in an apocalyptic aesthetic avalanche as its stars, the story’s titular One (Candy Bowers) and her best friend Ursula (Nancy Denis), emerge from a rubbish skip. One and Ursula are bears attempting to escape a hunter, such is the reality of their untold herstories, which form the basis of this enigmatic work.


The abiding hyper-reality aesthetic comes courtesy of Video Designer Optikal Bloc and the accompanying explosion of fluorescent colour details down to not just performer glasses but even the eyelashes behind them. As always, music is at the heart of the Black Honey production with composition and sound designer Kim ‘Busty Beatz’ Bowers’ creation crafting a hip-hop stadium concert within the Roundhouse Theatre space that, unfortunately, initially competes with performer delivery of song lyrics.


Things soon settle beyond performance art into a story as One starts talking about her mother’s legacy and the narrative reveals the story of the two bear friends finding their relationship in disarray as One gains celebrity status. Reduced and seduced into the all-white commoditised, exploitative and materialistic world, she struggles to stay true to intention to finish what her mother began and her determination to never to become a pet.


As a fairy tale for the hip hop generation written by Candy Bowers, “One the Bear” represents allegorical storytelling at its most engaging in its representation of inter-generational colonisation and assimilation, with a modern twist. The work, which has grown out of the lived experience of its Black Honey feminist dreamer creators, has been devised with an ideal teenage audience in mind and those in the opening night crowd within this demographic certainly seemed to be engaged and empowered by its prompt to reflect critically on the impact of media saturation, culture consumption and colonisation.


The hour long show flies by in a cyclone of colour, movement and energy. This requires physical performances from Bowers and Denis as they shake their little tails all around the stage. Bowers conveys both strength and vulnerability as the titular One and Denis’ versatility impresses without detracting from Bowers’ essential presence. Indeed, Denis is hugely entertaining, not just as best friend Ursula, but as the bear enthusiast journalist who discovers One as a star whilst undercover “21 Jump Street” style.


Memorably, the story is told in rhyme. The enticing rhythm this creates, moves things along, but not at the expense of pace and pause, which is used to control not only the narrative but audience response to it. And the rhymes become entertainment in themselves, working even when (or maybe because) they don’t entirely work, with interactions like “this cereal tastes like latex …. what do you think is going to happen next?” adding an additional layer to the show’s humour and a script that is full of funny lines.


“One the Bear” is an innovative work that takes its audience on a loud, proud and powerful journey in its smash of traditional notions of political theatre and show of how all theatre spaces should be for everyone. If you like to be challenged by what you see on stage, you won’t regret giving your time to this brave, different and daring work and will not only enjoy its paw-up revolution, but be empowered to growl along and share its message about sisters never being defined by misters.

Photos c/o – Dylan Evans

Fierce power fighters

Hot Brown Honey (Briefs Factory/Black Honey Company)

Judith Wright Centre, Performance Space

September 16 – 26

Culture doesn’t just have to be of the heightened type that occurs only in flagship venues. And “Hot Brown Honey” is evidence of this as, preshow, the Judith Wright Centre is a hive activity (#punintended) as the Hot Brown Honeys mingle amongst the audience. The anticipation is only sweetened upon entry into the theatre space and introduction to the visually dominant honeycomb-esque mountain from atop which a loud and proud Busty Beatz begins the high energy showcase of female talent. And what a range of talent it includes, with dancers, vocalists and even a beatboxer appearing as part of the show’s appealing eclecticism, harmonising perfectly despite their distinct individual styles.


For the uninitiated, Hot Brown Honey is a collective of talented beauties of all shapes and sizes, united in quest to pack a sweet punch of hip-hop politics by smashing stereotypes and exploring sticky topics. In doing so they present strength of conviction, voice and determination in shows that seem only to go from strength to glorious strength as examples of entertainment by the people for the people.


Those who have experience of their most recent Judy outing can be reassured by presence of previous crowd favourites, bogan Aussie girl in Bali (Crystal Stacey) and Polynesian basket weaver (Lisa Fa’alafi), as well as the Seymour-like finale coconut (whose favourite snack is prejudice).


Joining them are new and equally memorable moments of impressive physicality and creative invention such as outrageous parody of Iggy Azalea and Nicki Mina, and tribute to an “Eat Pray Love” yoga devotees from special guest Sammy Willians.


And there is real highlight in appearance of Miss Bogan Villea  (special guest Benjamin Graetz, last seen with the Honeys at ”지하 Underground”, (Uplate) at 2014’s WTF Festival) for a couple of unapologetically-ocker Acca Dacca and Midnight Oil numbers to have Thunderstruck audience members clapping and whooping along.


The show is not all irreverence though, including comment on a number of political issues related to nationalism, colonialisation and empowerment. Indeed, the inclusion of its domestic violence number during which Crystal Stacey performs a series of stunning aerial circus moves, elevates the significance of its themes to a new level of (unfortunate) topical appreciation. The addition of the song ‘Where are you from?’ provides one of the other most overt instances, but this is tempered by the cohesion of transformation from, for example, contemporary to indigenous dance within one of the opening numbers.


“Hot Brown Honey” is a show of contrasts and with its pulsating musical score (thanks to the wonderful reinvention and rearrangement of many contemporary pop classics), it offers plenty of bombastic moments of pure entertainment. With the help of some luscious lighting and the cleverest of costumes as layer upon layer is often shed to unfold entirely new outfits, each more elaborately realised than the last, the hyper-reality of its segments becomes infectious because never has fighting the power tasted so sweet. There is also chance that you may even be lucky enough to feature in the always light-hearted interactive segment that see audience members’ getting up close and personal with a particularly Busty Beatz.

“Hot Brown Honey” is a heightened experience on a grand scale, making it a hyperbolically great show that will leave you raving to others in exhilaration of its fierce performances, powerful messages and celebratory feel. More than just a fun night out, it includes piercing social commentary of things that should and do matter, which makes it perfect for curation within a festival program.


Photos c/o – Dylan Evans


The beatz must go on

Hot Brown Honey (Black Honey Company)

Judith Wright Centre, Performance Space

March 19 – 28

Often when you see a good show, you leave the theatre thinking how you could easily see it again. Sometimes, when you see a great show, you leave thinking also of everyone you want to bring back to see it again with you. “Hot Brown Honey” is most defiantly a case of the latter. More experience than show, it is an energetic, entertaining and thought-provoking consideration of the legacy of colonialism and the powerful women who are generally forgotten about in politics.

And you don’t get any more powerful than Busty Beatz, the show’s DJ and emcee of sorts. Tracksuit clad and full of fierce attitude, she shows us just how timely this show is, with her inset political observations and comments on social structures and racial injustice. Despite this weighty subject matter, however, the show is jam packed with moments of side-splitting hilarity, culminating in a high-energy explosion of freaky Timmy Trumpet rhythm from a very Busty Beatz.


From the simmering shores of Polynesia to bogan Bali antics, “Hot Brown Honey” smashes stereotypes and mischievously undresses sticky topics, often quite literally, in its many and varied burlesque numbers. Indeed, the show features a range of musical moments, from Taylor Swift to The White Stripes and even a bit of Barbara. And there are a number of quite poignant parts in the show’s second act, including an amazing aria from Heru Pinkasova, showing how Opera Australia’s loss is our gain. A superb aerial performance by Crystal Stacey is also simply stunning: a strong, sensual and utterly moving response to the women of domestic violence who can’t speak for themselves.


“Hot Brown Honey” a difficult-to-define show that is full of surprises, from beyond-belief beat-boxing talent (from Matehaere Hope Haami) to a colossal talking coconut, as it represents a hybrid of diverse artistic forms from some highly talented women. No words can aptly describe how gloriously camp, clever and comic this culmination of dance, hip-hop, opera, burlesque, circus, satire and politics is. The spirit on stage is quite palpable. There is clever use of costume and much energetic movement – so much so that it is almost impossible to keep up with it all at times – but in its tremulous ending, its important message is certainly clear. For, as the song says, ‘It’s a man’s world. But it ain’t nothing without a woman’ and the age of entitlement is over.


The Arts has the capacity to shift culture and we are in a culture that needs change right now. Thankfully there are fearless women like the bold members of Black Honey Company to lead the creative revolution. If only there were more like them, ready to inspirationally survive, thrive and rise. “Hot Brown Honey”… that’s how it’s done people.