Review: Queens of Sheba (Soho Theatre)

They ask me where I am from! I say I am a mix. Of both racism and sexism – they lay equally on my skin. Passed down unknowingly by my next of kin.”

Returning to the stage after several previous sell-out runs, Queens of Sheba (by Jessica L Hagan, adapted by Ryan Calais Cameron) is currently on at the Soho Theatre.

This isn’t a play which has a beginning, a middle, and an end in the traditional sense. It is an experience which brings the audience to an understanding and celebration of what it means to be a Black woman, living under the shadow of misogynoir.

It is about the expectation that skin should be lightened, personalities should be toned down, hair should be neutralised, names should be anglicised.

It is about the assumption that Black women respond to ‘yo’, know how to twerk, and are examples of the exotic to many white men who date them, or trophies to black men who chase them.

It is about the inclination of Black women to acknowledge what makes them strong, to celebrate the songs of women like Tina, Aretha, Gladys, Billie, and Miss Ross, and call out the abuse inherent in hip-hop lyrics.

It is about the jubilation of the music of the African diaspora to make the body dance, and the sisterhood of taking a moment to share, sit, and sing together is support.

The cast of Queens of Sheba
L-R – Tosin Alabi, Kokoma Kwaku, Eshe Asante, Elisha Robin

We move to different settings: the nightclub that rejects the four women for ‘being too black’ (which really happened, just a few years ago, in the US); the office where situations and statements we awkwardly recognise mark the first days and weeks in a new job; the date with a white man who fetishes the appearance of women of a different race; unwanted attention from men who display an immaturity which irritates.

Jessica Kaliisa’s production takes place wholly in front of a stage curtain (occasionally problematic when the actors sit on the floor during scenes and you miss some of the nuances of their reactions and performances). This is a play which moves along solely on its words, its music, and its physicality.

Occasionally there is audience interaction, so be prepared if you are on the front row, but even without that there are ripples of laughter and knowing vocal reactions as the play progresses.

The cast (Tosin Alabi, Kokoma Kwaku, Eshe Asante, and Elisha Robin) are all terrific, moving with ease between genders and ages. As they have been performing this show since 2019, they display an ease together which makes an audience warm to them and the story they tell.

You can catch Queens of Sheba live at the Soho Theatre until 21 August – book your tickets here.

LouReviews received a complimentary ticket to review Queens of Sheba.

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