Queens of Sheba – Theatre Review
“I am a mixture of racism and sexism, they lay equally on my skin passed down by my next of kin. Passed down unknowingly by my next of kin.”
Soho Theatre is currently housing one of the most powerful theatre plays I have seen in years, a play that showcases the raw acting talent the UK continues to house and a story that speaks so poignantly to the realities of being a Black woman.
The play opens with Eshe Asante taking centre stage. She acts as if she is looking at her reflection but the mirror is not physical, the mirror is the audience who watch her face turn sorrowful as she touches her braids, body, and face. It is a moment in our lives we know too well, to hate what our own mirrors reflect back at us but as Asante performs this moment of self-depreciation, for Black women in the audience it holds a double meaning, it is reminiscent of despising what is reflected to you simply because you are a woman, simply because you are a Black woman.
Queens of Sheba is a melancholic ode to the Black female experience in not just the UK but around the world. From micro-aggressions in the workplace where fake plastered smiles are done in fear of being labelled as aggressive and dates with white men can turn traumatic, life for a Black woman is a tricky circus of appearing to the world as a particular version of oneself in order to make others feel comfortable even though the consequence is that one makes themselves feel so very small. Yet, Jessica L.Hagan, the mastermind behind this incredible play, did not forget the role Black men and Hip-Hop play in the silencing of Black women. As the women on stage talk about never being enough for their Black men and the derogatory lyrics that plague songs they joyfully dance to, we see Black women as invisible muses, able to love, to inspire, and give while their own heart and dignity wanes.
Black women are tired of being strong. The scene in which Asante cries, broken at the seams, encapsulates this heart-breaking reality. This was the first time I have ever watched a play where the sounds of the audience’s sniffles and weeping are louder than that of the actor that caused it. Asante was tired of being strong and so it seemed many of the audience were tired too, carrying the weight of an identity imposed onto them with no respite. Yet, the tears from the crowd also symbolised something very poignant for me. Here is a powerful play where Black women tell a story of a world that continues to be of disservice to their body and soul and yet it seems even the white man beside me can find pieces of his own woes as he too sheds a tear or my middle eastern best friend who sat on my other side. Where do Black women go to grieve our pains without our experiences having to be shared or hung and drawn so those who share no similarities with our tales can find themselves in our own collective sorrow? Queen of Sheba showed us that this place is in Black sisterhood. As the actors dry their tears and sing out songs by Aretha Franklin, Tina Turner, or Donna Summer, they have found a safe place in their sisterhood where their sister shares their same kinky hair, the same African and Caribbean culture, their same story.
This is a play that does not need props or grand lighting to enhance an already moving message. It is that a play that made all in the audience feel perceived, showing just how important the arts are – how important Black female voices are. I recommend everyone to go and see this play and learn that Black women do not want to be strong nor invisible muses but instead we just want to be loved, to be known and respected for simply being who we are in whatever shape, size, or story that comes in.