Queens of Sheba
Battersea Arts Centre
Reviewed – 18th November 2019
“What struck most powerfully, though, was the collective soul of their performance”
Four women, dressed in black, stand on a bare stage and for the space of an hour, deliver a passionate diatribe against the twin evils of sexism and racism visited on them daily. They are fierce, they are angry, they are eloquent, and they are young black women.
The experiences discussed here: patronising treatment in white-run offices, dreadful dates with white men who think the women are ‘exotic’, weird assertions of their sexuality and their personalities by black men, were powerfully articulated. They aren’t experiences that I’ve had, but the power and the responsibility of theatre is to make an audience feel things they’ve never previously felt, things that are the experiences of others articulated and embodied by performers. This quartet accomplished that in style. They used wonderfully arranged soul standards, sung a cappella, as leaven in this slightly preachy, torrential statement of their woes. Aretha Franklin songs have only sounded better when sung by Aretha, and their rendition was wonderful.
What struck most powerfully, though, was the collective soul of their performance: lines shared and restated, songs harmonised, movement synchronised, four actors sharing a space and a moment to make a collective statement. They even sighed in harmony. At the end, the audience leapt to their feet in spontaneous standing applause. So many standing ovations are woefully unearned, but this one felt right, like a coming together of actors and an audience that shared their experience. That was quite a moment. Would it have been a better play with less polemic? Very possibly. Would it have spoken so powerfully to the audience if it had been more measured? Almost certainly not.
Reviewed by Christopher Lilly
Photography by Ali Wright
Queens of Sheba
Battersea Arts Centre until 23rd November
Previously reviewed at this venue: