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Expensive Shit, Soho Theatre, review - 'strong but slender' | reviews, news & interviews

Expensive Shit, Soho Theatre, review - 'strong but slender'

Expensive Shit, Soho Theatre, review - 'strong but slender'

A tale of two toilets: Edinburgh Fringe First winner comes to Soho Theatre

Punchy: Jamie Marie Leary in ‘Expensive Shit’. The Other Richard

It’s hot. Real hot. And you’re dancing, just lost in music. You’re at the legendary Shrine nightclub in Lagos, where Afrobeat star Fela Kuti is king. It’s 1994. And it’s hot. Sweat is just pouring off you, no longer in little trickles but soaking through your clothes. And still you dance.

As the beat pounds along, you can hear Fela intone: “Men are born; kings are made”, then something about “one nation, indivisible”, before he says, “War has never been the answer — long live Nigeria! Viva Africa!” It sounds like glory. Surely this is heaven on earth.

The next day, in Adura Onashile’s 65-minute play, Expensive Shit, the teenage Tolu spends all day in the club’s toilet with her three mates, practising the dance routines that they will perform when the charismatic Fela plays. They are part of his following at Kalakuta, the musician’s sanctuary for the dispossessed, from where he preaches his gospel of anti-corruption, anti-colonialism and anti-capitalism. He is the man, and the girls want to catch his eye. If they succeed, who knows? Maybe he will invite them to dance or sing in his band. Or maybe they will become one of his wives. They live in hope.

Fast-forward to Glasgow, Scotland, in 2013. Tolu is once again in a toilet, but this time she is no longer a teenager perfecting her dance moves; she is the toilet attendant. It’s a nightclub. And conditions are not good. Although she is Queen of the Toilets, the shit watcher, the night woman, she is unpaid and depends on tips from customers, to whom she provides cosmetics and perfume. At the same time, she has to do what the management tell her, so she encourages the young women to apply their lipstick in front of a two-way mirror, or leave their cubicle doors open, or drink from water bottles laced with a date-rape drug. It’s a grim contrast with her youthful hopes.Expensive ShitFirst seen with a different cast in Edinburgh last year, now transferred to Soho Theatre, Onashile’s play flips between the two time zones, and is a powerful account of female oppression – she shows that the two toilets are not really a world apart. But although Tolu does the most distasteful things, she is not indifferent to the abused women at the nightclub. And she’s conscious that her teenage idealism has soured into adult sorrow. We watch as she experiences a crisis of conscience, but then we find out that life in Kalakuta was not as rosy as it first appears. Even revolutionaries can be sexist, cruel and abusive. It’s an acute point, and strongly realized on stage.

Expensive Shit is a slender play, with little plot development or character depth, but it does make a vivid impression. Onashile directs her four-woman cast (pictured above) – Kiza Deen (Tolu), Veronica Lewis, Jamie Marie Leary and Maria Yarjah (who play two women each) – in a series of setpieces that include the exhilarating Nigerian zombie dance and the climactic shout of defiance from the Glasgow lasses. Choreographer Lucy Wild delivers the goods on designer Karen Tennent’s white-tile set, whose frames suggest the twin themes of voyeurism and exhibitionism. But there is a streak of melancholy and disillusionment, as well as anger at pervasive everyday sexism, that perfectly balances the pleasures of music and its ability to make the world disappear – if only for a while.


Even revolutionaries can be sexist, cruel and abusive


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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