Great theatre often takes deeply personal experiences and weaves them together into stories and sequences that tap into a universality and profundity that the experiences alone wouldn't have been able to. That's exactly what Nouveau Riché have managed to do with Queens of Sheba, playing every day at Underbelly.
Stories and sequences that tap into a universality and profundity
In a nutshell, Rachel Clarke, Jacoba Williams, Koko Kwaku and Veronica Beatrice Lewis explore the racism and sexism that black women experience as they make their way through the world. Through spoken word and song and movement they bring the stage to life, going deep into the realities and consequences of 'misogynoir' (misogyny directed towards black women where race and gender both play roles in bias).
The play is built around three everyday experiences: a job interview and subsequent job; a Tinder date with a white man called Charlie; and a night out at a club. Everywhere they encounter the same questions and the same ignorance. "Where are you from...? No, where are you FROM from?" They repeat. Their white colleagues are as clueless as their white date and the black men who try to pick them up in the club.
The most powerful sequence comes towards the end when they tackle the subject of misogyny in hip-hop. "I love my abuser," they say in unison. They're caught between loving the form and the sound and the vibe of hip-hop, but hating its lyrics and the image it shows the world of them as sexual objects. And the final sequence is remarkable in its rawness.
Jessica Hagan's writing (adapted by Ryan Calais Cameron) is excellent. It strikes the balance between funny, furious and emotional. The four performers play it well, moving around the stage with a fluidity and playfulness that had me completely engaged.
At points I found the spoken word got in the way of the sentiment, and the singing sections would have benefitted from some harmonies instead of always being in unison. But these are minor points and don't detract from Queens of Sheba being a powerful and important piece of theatre.