Queens of Sheba is a hymn to resilience, a song of resistance and a celebration of blackness and femininity. This mix of theatre and slam poetry at Underbelly Cowgate is unmissable.
Four black women in black dresses and colourful jewellery take centre stage in a bare space. No set, no mics – just them and the words of Jessica L. Hagan. “Don’t ask me where I’m from. I will say I am a mix, of both racism and sexism”. This is how they introduce the term “misogynoir”: a type of misogyny directed towards black women where race and gender both play roles in bias. It happens in the workplace, on dates with white and even black men, in the lyrics of their songs and in their aggressive pick-up lines in clubs.
The language is very evocative, both in form and content. It’s halfway between slam poetry and prose – it sings of the struggle of being asked “can I touch your hair?”, of being feticised by the white male gaze. It is heartbreaking when it wonders if tears can make dark skin fade and ‘make things different’ (easier). These words are powerful, not threatening but unforgiving; these voices have been fighting for hundreds of years to be heard and now they will make you listen. It might be hard but it is necessary: these stories need to be heard.
Another beautiful aspect of Queens of Sheba is that you can tell that it’s a collaborative piece. Direction, movement, text all blend in a perfectly timed and effective result. It is almost impossible to believe that this is Nouveau Riche first full-length production when it could have easily be running as a companion piece alongside the NT’s Barbershop Chronicles.
Queens of Sheba is a hymn to resilience, a song of resistance, a celebration of blackness and femininity. It’s a lesson we should have all learnt by now. I could fill pages with comments and praise, but the best thing I can do is urge you all to see it. Feminist comedian and activist Deborah Francis-White delivered this year’s Fringe Welcome Address – and made a great point about the importance of stories: they, relatively uniquely, allow us to acquire someone else’s point of view and develop empathy. I cannot help but think how this was the case for me when I saw Queens of Sheba.
As a white woman and artist, I can only use my privileged voice to raise these women high where everyone can hear and see them. It’s the least I can do. What a wonderful thing to see these young black women as they challenge stereotypes and change minds.