Show: Queens of Sheba
Venue: Underbelly Cowgate
Star Rating: *****
Reviewer: Sarah MacDonald
Queens of Sheba is absolutely exceptional. Drawing on the events of the Dstrkt nightclub incident, where door staff excluded entry for a group of women for being “too black”, this piece of theatre brings to the forefront the intersectional persecution of being both a person of colour and being a woman in modern-day Britain.
The nightclub incident only becomes a focus of the drama about two third of the way through. Prior to this there is an exploration of all the micro- and macro-aggressions these women have faced throughout their entire lives. They talk about the persecution experienced: in their own families (who to some degree are looking to protect them); whilst dating white men who “only date exotic women”; of being sexualised and degraded by men in their own communities; and the way this message is drenched through modern media depictions of black women.
The line “I’m in love with my oppressor” is used to discuss the lyrics of songs by black performers who have hugely popular music but are exploitative and derogatory of women in their words. However, it forms a crux to the whole experience of these women, they look to be accepted by their oppressors in a world where sexism and racism are rife. This world is no dramatised creation; it is the everyday lived experience of these women and millions of other women. The play magnificently captures this and is hard-hitting in the way it shows the performers on their hands and knees crawling to overcome and rise above. The play conducts a vitally accurate portrayal of sexism but it is the conflation of this with the constant intersection it plays with these women’s race which makes this drama a stand-out piece of modern theatre.
The vocals, dancing and acting skills throughout the drama weave a hugely evocative and relatable narrative. All the performers: Rachel Clarke, Jacoba Williams, Koko Kwaku, and Veronica Beatrice Lewis demonstrate raw talent and a refined ability to inhabit a number of roles. They characterise the unwanted male attention that they garner and embody the strength of the sisterhood they form against this.
Jessica Hagan’s writing has been wonderfully adapted by Ryan Calais Cameron as part of the Nouveau Riche creative movements portrayal of this incident and all that has surrounded it. The artists and producers look to produce performances “with a keen scope on work that is both educational and entertaining”. Queens of Sheba truly delivers this. In the wake of the high acclaim Nanette by Hannah Gadsby has attained for it’s striking vulnerability exploring the overlap of sexism and homophobia; Queens of Sheba does a similar job for the intersection of racism and sexism. The energy of the performance is both uncomfortable and demands that one is moved to action instead of complacency.
Quite frankly, outstanding! This is a must see at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe – the script and music from the performers is also available from the Underbelly and on their own merit alone I would encourage people to support the Nouveau Riche company by getting in on that action. I can’t speak highly enough of the performers or production itself. Fantastic.