Edinburgh Fringe 2016
Expensive Shit, written and directed by Adura Onashile (writer of the award winning show HeLa), with Scottish Theatre Producers and the Traverse Theatre Company, is part of the Made in Scotland Showcase 2016. It’s the story of a nightclub toilet attendant, working in a club in Scotland, and having flashbacks to the club toilets where she worked in Nigeria.
Tolu is a toilet attendant working in a Glasgow nightclub, where she tries to engage the reluctant patrons in conversation and offers advice on how to pull. Scenes alternate with flashbacks to a night in the toilets of The Shrine nightclub in Lagos, owned by the revolutionary Nigerian musician Fela Kuti, Afrobeat pioneer, political activist, and pan-Africanist. In Nigeria, she and her friends practice their choreographed dance moves to Fela’s music, hoping they’ll be noticed and picked to join his band. In Glasgow, women come and go, apply makeup, and seek refuge from the dance floor when they’re having a bad night, while Tolu tries desperately to make money in tips, even at the expense of her principles.
Expensive Shit is a play about freedom, exploitation, and power. In the 1970s, women flocked to Fela Kuti’s commune (and self-declared independent republic) Kalakuta, seeking freedom from women’s roles in mainstream Nigerian society. There, Tolu is an idealist who believes in Fela’s political dream and in her chances of becoming a dancer. In Glasgow, her dreams and idealism are now dead, and Tolu is reduced to playing a role in the exploitative power systems that killed them. Nigeria and Scotland may be different countries, shown decades apart, but the place of women in each is remarkably and distressingly similar.
The comparison between the worlds in Nigeria and Scotland is intelligently done, and they are clearly distinguished by the lighting. The stage has been transformed into a lavatory, with three stalls – and, weirdly, no sinks. Clever use is made of the fourth wall to suggest an exploitative voyeurism.
Sabina Cameron gives a brilliant performance as the complex Tolu. She is well supported by Teri Ann Bobb Baxter, Jamie Marie Leary, and Diana Yekinni, who play women who come and go from the toilets and fellow aspiring dancers at The Shrine. Leary in particular stands out as a frightened woman in the Nigeria scenes. The dances to Fela Kuti’s music, choreographed by Lucy Wild, add a lively flavour to the Lagos scenes, and all four actors are talented and graceful dancers.
Expensive Shit is an immensely powerful play with complex themes, which are expertly handled. It covers some very important subject matter, and is full of dark humour and completely riveting.