Another month, another Cog Night! This time we’re back, once again, to our usual haunt of Soho Theatre catching the award-winning and Edinburgh Fringe favourite Queens of Sheba.
Known for bringing attention to exciting new work, it’s always a joy to experience something a little different when you attend a show here.
Our night began with the welcome, and now somewhat rare, sight of a packed-out bar, bustling with excited theatre-goers ready for an evening’s entertainment.
We ascended the stairs to the main theatre space, and into a ‘sold out’ auditorium – on a Monday night, in February! The Queens of Sheba evidently draw the crowds.
As writers, Jessica L. Hagan & Ryan Calais Cameron tell us, the show’s storyline is a response to the Dstrkt nightclub incident that caught the headlines back in 2015. A group of black women were turned away from the nightclub for being too “dark” and “overweight”.
Using that incident acting as the jumping-off point, the production strays away from any traditional narrative and instead playfully jumps between acted scenes, spoken word and raucous song.
Asking a great deal from its talented cast – Elisha Robin, Eshe Asante, Kokoma Kwaku & Tosin Alabi – who morph into wildly differing characters throughout the production. Applying buckets of humour and hard-hitting sincerity, the cast explores the continued racist and sexist treatment of black women in everyday professional and social environments.
The story begins in an office setting where white co-workers criticise their new black colleague for being too “hostile” or persistently wanting to touch their hair or learn how to twerk. Then onto a first date with a white man who makes fetishising comments about loving “exotic girls with plump lips” and relentlessly asking “where are you from…from?”
With each new scene, the cast cleverly transformed through extreme physicality and scarily accurate impressions, sending the engaged audience into fits of laughter and confirmed applause.
Carefully considered throughout the story, the Queens repeated poetic mantras that rose up against those that oppressed them.
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.
Not afraid of hard truths, the queens gave frank and cutting commentary on the misogyny experienced from within the black community itself. Providing deeply emotional interludes between the laughter.
Never too sporadic, the writing always allowed the room to breathe and gave ample space for reflection on what was being told. The cast could revel in moments of silence and confidently pick us up again to navigate us through to the next scene.
I love my abuser. He comes in many forms; the smooth and soft sounds of Drake – he cheats on me and then sings about it.
Scoring the entire production were a cappella renditions of pop songs by black artists. The Queens beautifully harmonised each song as they roused each other’s spirits resulting in chorus-like joy, clapping and dance moves.
Songs like ‘Proud Mary’ and ‘Respect’ took on a more profound and deeper meaning as they were nestled between tales of mistreatment and hurt.
The soundtrack was so well curated that our team were referencing these amazing songs all week – so much so that we created a Spotify playlist of those artists and others inspired by this production.
The music has echoed around our design studio for the last few days, we hope you enjoy it too.
This 55-minute play was clear, sharp and articulate – giving the much-needed platform and space for black female voices.
The week-long run at the Soho Theatre was completely sold out and it’s clear to see why.
Illustration by [NAME] for our Cultural Calendar.