Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh – until 28 August 2016
Reviewer: Hugh Simpson
Ambitious, lively and unsettling, Expensive Shit by Adura Onashile at the Traverse Theatre has important things to say.
There are two obvious reactions to the unusual title of the play. Some people will immediately think of toilets, and some will immediately think of Fela Kuti. And both will be right. Two stories are intertwined. Tolu is one of a group of women hoping to become dancers for the Nigerian bandleader and political activist Kuti. Kalakuta, the ‘republic’ he set up in Lagos, provides more freedom than the women had outside in many senses, but sexual subservience is the trade-off they face.
In contemporary Glasgow, an older Tolu works as a toilet attendant in a nightclub where two-way mirrors have been installed in order to let men willing to pay extra to spy on the women.
Issues of gender politics and empowerment are explored with considerable energy and intelligence by writer and director Onashile and an excellent cast. At times the running time seems inadequate to contain everything that is in here. How Tolu came to be in either situation is never explained; the parallels between the two stories are thematically very clear, but in narrative terms left unclear.
None of this is inappropriate in a play that raises questions but never tries to answer them, and prompts considerable feelings of unease. The set is much more sophisticated than is usual in a Traverse Fringe show, and Karen Tennent’s intriguing design effectively places the performers inside a cage. This adds another level to a play in which the male gaze and its effects are all too apparent, even with an all female cast.
Sabina Cameron is very impressive as Tolu – outspoken and ambitious in Nigeria, disappointed and marginalised in Glasgow. Teri Anne Bobb Baxter, Jamie Marie Leary and Diana Yekinni are equally impressive. Lucy Wild’s choreography deserves special mention in the Lagos scenes.
Dealing with exploitation and oppression with such humour and life, yet without trivialising them, is a very difficult task, but one that Onashile has pulled off triumphantly.
Running time: 1 hour
Traverse Theatre (Venue 15), 10 Cambridge Street, EH1 2ED
Thursday 4 – Sunday 28 August 2016
Daily, not Monday. Times vary; check website for details
Book tickets on the EdFringe website: https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/expensive-shit
Traverse website: http://www.traverse.co.uk/whats-on/event-detail/895/expensive-shit.aspx
Adura Onashile on Twitter: @aduraonashile