The saying goes, ‘If you don’t laugh, you’ll cry’, Esther Oluga did both while watching award-winning play Queens of Sheba. Read her review.
Queens of Sheba returns to Soho Theatre from 7 to 26 February – and it’s a thumbs up all round. The critically acclaimed play by Jessica L. Hagan, adapted by Ryan Calais Cameron and directed by Jessica Kaliisa, features the dynamic cast Tosin Alabi, Eshé Asante, Kokoma (Koko) Kwaku and Elisha Robin. And my goodness, did it come at the right time.
Loosely based on the DSTRKT nightclub incident of 2015, Queens of Sheba highlights the real-life experiences of four Black women. Blending movement, musical renditions and storytelling, the play highlights the chaotic rollercoaster faced by Black women when it comes to dating, microaggressions in the workplace and casual racism. Importantly it highlights misogynoir – the specific prejudice directed towards Black women where race and gender both influence the bias.
The play perfectly depicts the internal battle and question faced by Black women regularly: Is my anger justified or am I just overreacting?
During the play, if you’re not laughing, you’re singing along to the cast’s comedic renditions of classic Nina Simone or Diana Ross hits. During the playful sing-a-longs – the stunning vocals of Elisha Robin shine through. The focus on Black female songstresses is a reminder that these musicians were leaving us with a recipe sheet for the pungent cocktail of racism and sexism that we as Black women would face.
The show gives Black women the freedom to laugh, reflect, mourn what’s been taken from us, whilst celebrating how we’ve formed beautiful friendships and success in the face of such chaos. All this is done – without glorifying our suffering.
Arguably the most special aspect of Queens of Sheba is Black friendship. Tosin, Eshe, Kokoma and Elisha effortlessly remind us of how our friendships continues to save us, heal us, and allow us to exist. Thanks to Jessica L. Hagan’s script writing, the cast carry the heaviness of emotions many feel so deeply, so well that you leave feeling light. Not because the memories don’t hurt, but because you feel validated, that the pain you have felt, – still feel, matters.
Four women, in unembellished black clothes, not one prop in sight. Because props are not a necessity where words are striking and raw. Queens of Sheba is a gentle reminder of how many Black girls are conditioned to reduce themselves, so those around them can exist freely, limitlessly. It’s written by a Black woman, who centred four Black women. Often, our own stories are written and directed by everyone else but us – Queens of Sheba, took back that narrative and told it our way.