Queens of Sheba – Battersea Arts Centre, London

Writer: Jessica L Hagan

Reviewer: Richard Maguire

There really is no mountain high enough for the four talented female performers in the hit show Queens of Sheba, which, after productions at The Camden People’s Theatre, VAULT Festival and the Omnibus Theatre, now comes to the BAC as part of a national tour. Thrilling, angry and funny, this show is what theatre is all about.

What is most impressive about this exploration of race and gender is that there is no set, no lighting design, no soundtrack. On stage, owning it completely, are four black women who, in unison, tell the audience what it is to be a woman and black. After a fine rendition of Aretha Franklin’s Respect, the women quickly restage their experiences – and the experiences of many in the audience – of what it is like working in an environment with mainly white colleagues. Within the first few days, the white co-workers will be asking to touch the black women’s hair, within a week the white co-workers will be snapping their fingers as they talk, and always they will be asking the black women ‘where are you from?’ or ‘where are you from from?’

Other scenarios follow. The performers remember their first date with a white man, who proclaims that he likes exotic women and singing along to all the words in rap songs. But the women’s anger does not end there. They also announce that by liking rap and hip-hop they are in love with their abuser who calls them ‘hoes’ or ‘bitches’. They also send up lecherous black men who try to pick up the women in a club. And they rant against their parents who have made them grow up too quickly.

But despite the anger here, Queens of Sheba is very funny, and the impressions by the women are often hilarious and have the audience whooping with delight and recognition. Indeed, with so much laughter from the audience some of the performers’ words are lost in the noise. And with such lyricism in the script, written by Jessica L Hagan, you want to treasure every phrase.

The performers do not miss a beat, and the whole 55-minute performance is as tight as a tightrope, especially when they speak together the refrains that hold this piece together, including the idea that their identities are formed from ‘a mix of racism and sexism.’ There is redemption at the end, and it comes as joy and hope and friendship. Queens of Sheba is most likely the mightiest show of the year.

Runs until 23 November 2019 | Image: Ali Wright 

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The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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