Expensive Shit – review
Soho Theatre

Words by: Elvina Quaison | Published: Wednesday, April 12, 2017 5:26 AM
Expensive Shit 2017 pic credit Eoin Carey Expensive Shit 2017 pic credit Eoin Carey

Onashile has a unique perspective and doesn’t shy away from encouraging uncomfortable conversations.

I have seen plays about Fela Kuti, concerts inspired by his music. I have heard stories about his home, advocacy and way of life. I haven’t seen a production that seeks to explore the way women were treated in Fela’s place of freedom. Expensive Shit (see listing) is a production written and directed by Adura Onashile. Onashile takes two seemingly unconnected points in time and situations and aims to highlight some important truths about, in essence, the objectification of women and how, to some extent, as a means to an end women participate in their own objectification.

The play is set in the bathroom of the famous club owned by Fela, The Shrine in Lagos 1994 and a club inspired by The Shimmy Club in Glasgow 2013. With a cast of four women, Kiza Dean tasks the lead as our storyteller Tolu and is joined with dedicated support from Veronica Lewis, Jamie Marie Lecry and Maria Yarjah. The roles called for the cast to bounce between Nigerian and English or Scottish accents which they took on with great enthusiasm if not always strict authenticity. All the same they come together to produce a watchable and engaging cast.

What initially interested me about the production was the lead character; Tolu is a woman working in the ladies bathroom at the club in Glasgow. The story sees us observing moments of reflection in Tolu’s life from the changes in her life she aimed at making by dancing at The Shrine, to the things she has to do to make a meaningful salary in the Glasgow club.

Expensive Shit 2017 pic credit Eoin Carey Expensive Shit 2017 pic credit Eoin Carey

I liked the fact that the women we encounter assisting in the bathroom and don’t think about in this production take centre stage and are given some depth, history, a life. A person that some seek to engage with for a moment and others would prefer were not there or simply remained silent and serving.

It is clear that Onashile’s production seeks to show the seedier side of the movement of hope that was Fela’s Kalukuta ‘a sanctuary for the dispossessed’.  She begins to explore how for women seeking freedom in Kalakuta they found a different kind of limitation and restriction. A place where the hope of freedom and a degree of power over their own lives was to be found by how they looked and how well they could move their waist.

Fast forward to 2013 we see girls entering the Glasgow club touching up make up and adjusting clothes for best ‘pulling’ effect – looking for recognition and acceptance through how they looked. There are a number of themes around exploitation and power that Onashile touches on, while I enjoyed the production I felt that more character development was needed to connect the past and present actions for a more cohesive flow and story progression.

I did appreciate the desire to turn the spotlight on some of the challenging elements of a musical hero’s character and help humanise our legends, recognising their actions and impact was powerful but they are not perfect.

I look forward to seeing more work from Onashile as she clearly has a unique perspective and doesn’t shy away from encouraging uncomfortable conversations.

Info: Expensive Shit is on tour until 22 April 2017 / see listing

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