Pros: The message about objectification of women is powerful and originally conveyed.
Cons: The parts spoken with a Nigerian accent might be harder to understand for those who don’t speak English as a first language.
Adura Onashile’s Expensive Shit delves into this topic using two parallel situations that represent the past and present of Tolu (Kiza Deen), an aspiring dancer from Nigeria who ends up working as a toilet attendant in a club in Glasgow. During her youth in Lagos, Tolu left her family to follow musician and political activist Fela Kuti, who opened his home to create a sanctuary for the dispossessed, called Kalakuta. Kuti’s community distanced itself from the Nigerian establishment, promising equal treatment and opportunities to the several women who decided to join. Tolu’s big dream of freedom and independence, though, is soon hindered by a growing awareness that an excessively liberal woman is more often seen as a sex partner than a valued individual. In disappointment she decides to move to Europe, in search for a better fate. Sadly for her, things don’t improve much in Glasgow, where she starts working as a toilet attendant in a club and is forced by her employer to perform some dodgy tasks aimed at pleasing the male clientele.
This 60-minute single-act play is set in the ladies´loos of what becomes, by turns, Fela Kuti’s famous club The Shrine and an unnamed disco in Glasgow. Karen Tennent´s design is simple but clever and we watch the scene as if we were behind one of the many mirrors in the room. Changes in lighting and background music mark the switches between past and present and, overall, the play is quite easy to follow. Swinging continuously between comedic and dramatic, however, Expensive Shit fails to shine in either genre and, despite effective aspects in the production and a powerful message of equality, is not funny enough to truly entertain or deep enough to provoke.
The acting fails to convey very strong feelings, except for an isolated moment of collective rebellion which explodes without an appropriately climatic build-up. The only moments I thoroughly enjoyed were the dancing sequences with the Afrobeat musician original tracks and the cast’s sultry moves, which I found genuinely exciting and beautiful to watch.
Expensive Shit has an important message and its diverse casting is most welcome in British theatre. But to really succeed it requires further development into a full-length two-act play. Also, the choice of a thrust stage, with the seats on three sides, rather than the conventional end-on stage of the Soho Theatre, might help the audience to feel closer to the action and relate better to Tolu’s personal drama.
Written and Directed By: Adura Onashile
Producer: Scottish Theatre Producers and Soho Theatre
Box office: 020 7478 0100
Booking link: http://www.sohotheatre.com/whats-on/expensive
Booking until: 22 April 2017