Historically, The Queen of Sheba appeared in religious texts as a potential equal to Solomon, the 10th century BC King of Israel, generally upheld as the wisest figure in Jewish history. She was renowned for her cleverness, intelligence, and wisdom. As we are thrown into this passionate and poignant play we soon see how devastatingly ironic the title is; that black woman have in fact been unjustly disrespected.
Inspired by the DSTRKT nightspot incident of 2015, Queens of Sheba tells the hilarious, moving stories of four Black Women battling every-day misogynoir; where sexism meets racism. The play has no real plot, no set, no lighting design and no sound track. Instead Tosin Alabi, Eshe Asante, Kokoma Kwaku and Elisha Robin naturalistically tell what it is like to have lived and breathed racial injustice your whole life through hard-hitting dialogue, poetry, rap and comedy.
In between powerful poetic and rhyming words, Director Jessica Kaliisa cleverly breaks it up with comedic light relief and dynamic, powerful dance and song to emotive black writers like Tina Turner, Credence Clearwater Revival and Aretha Franklin. We remember as we are drawn into the fieriness of the performances that each of these famous black lyricists were not just entertainers but also of great importance in raising issues of race and equality.
Writer Jessica Hagan’s language helps add so much prowess with her consistent repetition, within both the songs and spoken lines that mirror the cacophony of micro aggressions. With the expectations society has that skin should be lighter, names should be anglicised, personalities should be toned down, hair should be less ‘big’, a black girl is forced to grow up in a white world and so can have her innocence snatched away from a young age.
The show helps demonstrate the main form of misogyny black woman have to endure every day, and which they often feeling they have to encourage; the male fetishisation of black women, leaving them asking ‘am I the wild card in his deck of queens?’, being called ‘bitch’ and ‘hoe’ but never a ‘queen.’ For the audience it is a harsh reminder, this exploitation and victimisation we are seeing is just a reflection of something so much more.
The play ends with the line, ‘we are queens and we don’t need a crown’, leaving you with a feeling of empowerment and hope. Queen of Sheba is not only good, it is important, it is an honest account of the black female experience and one that everyone should hear. A must see.
Written by: Jessica Hagan
Adapted by: Ryan Calais Cameron
Directed by: Jessica Kaliisa
Prodcued by: Nouveau Riche
Queen of Sheba plays at Soho Theatre until 26 February. Further information and bookings via the below link.