Affirmative, fierce, fearless and dignified theatre, Hive City Legacy‘s nine-strong cast express their individual anger, bemusement, struggles and strengths with dynamism and heart.
Hive City Legacy brings together the Australian creators of Edinburgh smash Hot Brown Honey (Lisa Fa’alafi, Busty Beatz and Briefs Factory) with nine British artists who I expect, and hope, become ones-to-watch in their own, individual capacities. All are black, all identify as a woman, all perform with ineffable physical strength and dynamism – but hell, they’re not the same as each other.
Anatomising the homogenisation of black Femme experience is perhaps the overarching theme of Hive City Legacy, which takes the form of a series of vignettes – platforms for the performers to express their anger, bemusement, individual observations, struggles and strength. A corde lisse duet, hip-hop dance battle, sections of spoken word and more all point the audience to the (later explicit) message that ‘All black women are not the same’. And who can argue that with that.
Farrell Cox seems to be the link between proceedings – playing a wide-eyed (perhaps ethereal) newcomer: to London, to ‘Britishness’, to inequities of race and gender, to the male gaze and to the ‘power of melanin’. I loved the early section where Cox fervidly follows a spotlight around and essentially traps it in a corner, after it initially doesn’t seem comfortable settling on her. A fitting analogy for the purpose, and tone, of the piece – Femmes of Colour are exclusively front-and-centre in Hive City Legacy (and off-stage too; the entire creative team are included in that statement), and they’re definitely not here to shy away from that.
Do sections make me – a white, cis, man – uncomfortable? Of course. All nine performers single one out on the third row halfway through, stare him down, give him a taste of his own ‘white male gaze medicine’. I feel grateful but also self-conscious when a performer grabs my arm and pulls me onto a (at that point, exclusively Black) dancefloor, post-curtain call. I can’t work out how much I should dance, or how comfortable I should look. I suppose, in all honesty, I’m never entirely sure whether the troupe grant me ‘permission’ to enjoy their show. But I’m absolutely not suggesting there’s a problem with that. It’s almost certainly the point – and I like the piece all the more for it – but blimey does it make it hard to review.
So I’ll put my hands up and saying writing about this piece like I normally *might* feels immaterial. I, and my white male comrades, can rave about the excellent choreography, express full support about the show’s message, wax lyrical about the brilliant Legacy it’ll inevitably leave and the emerging performers it’s serving as a stepladder to – and even suggest a bit of fat could be shaved off transitions to make the evening even tighter. But just typing those last 18 words makes me cringe, because it’s not. For. Me. And that’s completely ok.
I hope this isn’t controversial, it’s really not supposed to be – but if Hot Brown Honey was primarily about education, I’m pretty sure Hive City Legacy is about empowerment. An unapologetic performance for Black Femmes by Black Femmes, and I respect it all the more for that. Even the delivery of the ‘I am not a fetish’ refrain (perhaps the show’s closest moment to HBH‘s memorable ‘Don’t touch my hair’) seems designed to elicit consensus more than to educate. And long may affirmative, fearless, fierce and dignified Black Femme theatre remain that way.