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Hot Brown Honey perform at Southbank this summer
© Daria YakinaHot Brown Honey perform at Southbank this summer

Aussie cabaret stars Hot Brown Honey are pollinating London with two sweet shows this summer

Here's their director and co-creator Lisa Fa'alafi on matriarchal rule, training up femmes of colour, and challenging audiences to think differently

Written by
Alice Saville

Hot Brown Honey are a cabaret troupe made up of Indigenous Australian women who have wowed audiences worldwide with their sweet blend of wicked humour, infectious energy and slogans like ‘Decolonise and moisturise’. Their show includes everything from a savage feminist take on James Brown’s ‘It’s a Man’s World’ to a hula-hoop routine that puts the boot into thoughtless tourist stereotypes. They’re performing at Southbank Centre this month. And two of them are spreading the love by creating a cabaret supergroup of nine young women of colour to perform ‘Hive City Legacy’, a new show at the Roundhouse. Here, director Lisa Fa’alafi says why it’s exactly the sweet medicine London needs.

Honey, bees, hives… where did all this come from?
‘It started a long time ago when we were doing underground club nights. It wasn’t like a deep aligning with bee-yoncé or anything like that, it just felt right to describe the quirky work we were making. We were all different browns but sweet as honey. And it just grew from there. We’re on a world pollination tour for ever! I love the fact we can keep owning spaces, and taking over.’

There’s a growing discussion around how people of colour might get acting roles but they’re not getting to make the creative decisions.
‘We want to challenge that as much as we can with “Hive City Legacy”. I’ve never worked on a project where people in every role – lighting, sound, stage management, costume – are all femmes of colour.’

Is there something maternal about how you’re working with these younger creatives?
‘Yeah, I think so. For Busty [Beatz, musical director] and myself, we’re performers in our early forties, we like to consider ourselves matriarchs-in-training, and it’s been great taking on that responsibility. We feel like we’re trying to flip the patriarchy and say: “What does society look like if it has a matriarchal system?” ’

You’re known for your incredible stage visuals. What’s in store for ‘Hive City Legacy’?
‘The design still lives in the cartoonesque, super-heightened, super-colourful world that is Hot Brown Honey, but we’re going to take it to the next level. Our set designer has been working on a new on-stage “hive”. It lights up, it talks – it feels like another character.’

Do Hot Brown Honey get a different response in the UK compared to performing in Australia?
‘We do, actually. It can be really tricky to play back home. The way that indigenous people are treated in Australia is just terrible. If you ever challenge that, it’s a threat to what some people consider national pride. I feel that’s why our work is important – to keep having the conversations. Even if it makes people feel uncomfortable, they’ll see things through a different lens, just for a second.’

‘Hive City Legacy’ is at the Roundhouse, Jul 10-21. ‘Hot Brown Honey’ is at Southbank Centre, Jul 24-28.

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