Back to the 1960s for retro fun comedy at the Brighton Fringe

Fiona Coffey
Fiona Coffey

It’s back to the 1960s for retro fun with a twist as Honey’s Happening, the critically-acclaimed immersive comedy theatre show, launches its Summer of Love Tour at the Komedia for this year’s Brighton Fringe (May 18 and 25).

Written and performed by Fiona Coffey, it features Rhiannon Vivian as Barbara

As Fiona says: “Audiences join suburban housewife Honey Childs and daughter Barbara in her living room for cheese and pineapple, retro party games and Honey’s favourite easy listening LPs as she embarks on a serious mission: to bring about world peace.

“Hip, Square or Way Out There, everyone is encouraged to take part in Honey’s specially-planned activities. But as the Happening gathers momentum, events take an unexpected turn, and Honey’s hopes and dreams start to unravel…

“Honey’s Happening also invites us to reflect on progress since the era of flower power, space exploration and civil unrest. A hit with both mature and younger audiences at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe, the show has been developed and extended under the direction of Oliver Senton, from the original staging by Sarah-Louise Young.

Honey’s Happening is Fiona Coffey’s second show. Her debut A touch of Mrs Robinson sold out at the Komedia for the 2017 Brighton Fringe.

Fiona explains: “The idea for Honey’s Happening came a while back in December 2016, in response to the offer of a 20-minute slot at Cabaret Playroom at The Albany Theatre in Deptford – the only challenge being it had to be brand-new work!

“I’d just found this fabulous 60s evening cocktail dress at a vintage stall at Twinwood and that was the starting point for my character.

“I was – ahem – eight years old in 1969 and I’ve always been fascinated by the suburban hostesses of my childhood - my school friends’ mums, who lived in Grange Park (North London), where Honey’s Happening is set.

“I’m still in touch with my best friend Sue from that time and we have an ongoing joke about hostess trolleys, so naturally Honey had to have one (there are now two in the show) from which she serves her cheese and pineapple on sticks, and her special party punch Hawaiian Surprise. A floral pinny, a 60s bob wig and lots of blue eyeshadow complete Honey’s look.

“At the 20-minute scratch at The Albany I got the whole audience playing a party game, and they enjoyed it so much they didn’t want to stop, I almost had to say ‘Oy! I’m supposed to be performing the rest of my piece and I’ve only got three more minutes!’

“But this experience inspired me to build a show where the whole audience is involved in a way which is genuinely fun for them, rather than picking on someone and humiliating them for the benefit of everyone else.

“I also wanted the audience to a role to play in the action, without them having to work too hard to make the show work or to have to do anything other than be themselves. It will be a plot spoiler to say how we solve that but suffice to say the format of the show is quite innovative, with a few interesting twists and turns!

“There’s a couple of more serious themes too. We’re living in very difficult times, where there’s a lot of conflict, not just over Brexit, but also between generations. With climate change and the economy, there’s a real sense that the older generation have messed things up for the young. I have two sons myself of 25 and 22 and I wanted to reflect this from both my perspective and theirs.

“That’s where the idea of a two-handed piece, focusing on a mother-daughter relationship came in. Honey’s asking the questions I was asking myself; am I too old and irrelevant to make a difference? Should I/we be stepping aside and letting young people take up the mantle of change?

“I asked what would happen if Honey tried to do her bit in the only way she knew how – and that would be by throwing a suburban party, rebranding it as a Happening, to show her more worldly BOAC air stewardess daughter Barbara that she wanted to do her bit and wasn’t going to be cast aside so easily.

“There’s a lot of fun in playing the ‘down with the kids’ idea, it’s what every young person dreads, but then I thought what would happen if Honey’s crazy plan wasn’t so misguided after all? And what might she learn by taking a risk, and stepping out of her comfort zone…

“Also, developing Barbara’s character allowed me to think more deeply about how the world has changed since the late sixties, and how Barbara’s struggles with her identity might resonate with young people today.

“Again, that was one of the most delightful things about last year’s Edfringe run, we weren’t just getting baby-boomers to the show but by word of mouth we were also getting a much younger audience, who neither knew or cared much about the sixties, but were inspired by Barbara’s story. I’m now running as fast as I can to get better at Twitter and Instagram so we reach a similar audience in Brighton!”

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