To encapsulate “Queens of Sheba” in one word or phrase would be impossible, but if I were to try I would use the phrase “the truths of black women”.
Brought to us by ‘creative movement’ Nouveau Riché, Queens of Sheba, penned by the brilliantly insightful Jessica L. Hagan and adapted for stage by actor/writer Ryan Calais Cameron was inspired by the DSTRKT nightspot nightclub incident, where a group of black women were denied entry into the club for being too dark and not physically “hot enough”.
The incident now evolved into a series of sketches woven together to tell the story of misogynoir, racism, and sexism against the black woman in the western world. Be it in the workplace or going on abysmal dates with men of all races, who either fetishise us or seek too hard to make us comfortable due to their discomfort. Be it trying to live “exhibit free” from the prying hands and eyes of those who would term us “exotic”, down to the constant demolition and degradation of us by the person who is meant to love us and help adjust our crowns; the black man.
But it is not all doom. I also saw the solidarity and sisterhood, that I have started to recognise in daily real life interactions with other Black sisters, represented on stage. As a result, the levels of truth in Queens of Sheba are heartbreaking, sobering, awe-inspiring and also uplifting.
The acting was outstanding but I would have expected no less for a few reasons. As the play has been in development for at least 2 years with advisory input from the actresses, I would expect the performances to sit in their blood as it did. However, that is not to take away from their sheer and shared brilliance. Rachel Clarke, Jacoba Williams, Koko Kwaku and Veronica Beatrice Lewis all worked amazingly well off and with each other to deliver emotional rides through movement, verse, prose, and song, embodying different characters including white and black male stereotypes brilliantly and bringing down the house either with laughter or tears. These four more than capable actresses are ones to watch with a wealth of talent oozing between them.
With a black box piece like this, the direction is also absolutely vital. Ryan Calais Cameron has yet again delivered a clear vision, as I saw him do before with “Rhapsody” at the Arcola Theatre (which also starred Veronica Beatrice Lewis). No sequence ever felt too long and it felt like the focus was to ensure each actress was allowed to bring something different and unique which he melded together fluidly to create the beautiful ensemble.
I can’t but wonder though, if this “shine a light on misogynoir” movement is part of an ever-increasing trend, as I am aware of a few upcoming pieces of black box theatre which will be doing the same in months to come. I hope it will not start to erode the originality and clarity of voice of what is being said as, by human nature, we start to compare one piece with another.
However, Queens of Sheba, by itself, is a truly holistic look at the world and life of the black woman and helps us all realise, we are not alone. We are here for each other and give care, love, and support, to each other.
This is a vital piece of theatre necessary to move the black woman forward and give others a much needed insight into our world.
Queens of Sheba ran at the New Diorama Theatre from the 4th – 8th September.