After a packed week of dramatic highs and lows – almost entirely highs, actually – we come to the last show in this year’s Flash Festival – The Nubian Sky, a solo performance by Shemelia Lewis. It’s an examination of what it is to be a black woman today. Part celebration, part revelation, Ms Lewis takes us through a number of scenarios, including a child growing up in Montserrat with strict but loving parents and only appallingly racist cartoons on TV to watch; and a grotesque TV game show, hosted by the revolting Dave, where we’re asked to judge whether a black woman who has been subjected to domestic abuse should get justice. Fortunately, our audience agreed 100% that she should; but the TV judges, whoever they were, disagreed. And at the end we see the woman in question struggling as a result of the nationwide TV disgrace – unable to keep down her job, no longer able to study, crying out to God for some comfort. Ms Lewis painted a very disturbing and uncomfortable picture on which to end the play.
The performance is full of contrasts. On one hand, Ms Lewis is a joy to watch. She comes across as a very likeable, rather wacky individual; her characters like to dance, to have fun, and simply, quietly, to get on with their lives. Set against this is a constant undercurrent of racism; the hideous cartoon, the denial of justice, the racist terminology in the media and around her. And whilst you sense that the spirit of survival and overcoming the odds will always prevail, that final scene of despair and abandonment tells another story.
I think it could have been even more successful if Ms Lewis had taken some of the ideas further. That cartoon, for instance, could have done with some deconstructing, rather than just showing the little girl getting bored with it. There was a scene where the schoolgirl got into trouble because of her hair; I’d have liked to understand a little more about what drove the teacher to raise the issue, and how it made everyone feel. Just a thought.
It sounds odd – and lame – to say that a play about how racism affects someone can be enjoyable, but strangely this performance was very enjoyable, because of the thoughtful and amusing characterisations and Ms Lewis’ warm sense of communication. Congratulations!