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Expensive S**t – Exploration of women’s freedom through Afrobeat
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Expensive S**t – Exploration of women’s freedom through Afrobeat

Kiza Deen as the main protagonist Tolu,  oozes sultriness in this humorous and engaging production developed as part of the Made in Scotland Showcase 2016. Which at its core, is asking if it’s possible to be a revolutionary yet hold disparaging views about a woman’s place within that revolution?

 

Written and directed by Adura Onashile, whose recent work include her award winning play “HeLa”, has obviously given great thought to  this conundrum. Here, she tries to tackle this big issue whilst at the same time looking at the infamous and outrageous 2013 case of Glasgow’s Shimmy Club where male clubbers paid to watch the women’s toilets through a two way mirror, which despite explosive moments of great humour and dance often leave the audience expecting more.

 

Kiza Deen is all swagger as the toilet attendant who holds court over her tiny domain and also as the cement that holds the ladies together in the Shrine, the infamous Nigerian nightclub.  But it’s Vernonica Lewis’s performance as a naive and vulnerable clubber that shines through. Her portrayal of the young woman desperately seeking affection and later desperately trying to recollect the aftermath of being sexually assaulted is at times all too painful and sad to watch.

 

Adura’s decision to juxtapose the toilets of the legendary Shrine club and the Shimmy is simplistic yet works magnificently. It allows the audience to really get a sense of the sounds and smells of Africa, whilst being transported back seamlessly to the hedonism of a Western club. One story revolves around the desire of four young dancers rehearsing frantically in the toilets so as to catch the attention of Fela the bandleader, in the hope of joining his band. However when this charismatic yet openly misogynistic revolutionary chooses the most vulnerable for his bed mate, it prompts Tolu to make a stand on stage for the rights of women which ultimately leads to her banishment from the Shrine.

 

She somehow ends up working in a seedy Scottish nightclub where she colludes with the owners to encourage women to expose their bodies and indulge in ‘dirty talk’ for the titillation of the male observers who have paid a princely sum for this extra service. The assault  of a female clubber as a result of her collusion, leads her to finally expose this shocking operation leaving the audience to answer the question can a private place like a toilet ever be seen as a public space?

 

The blend of Fela’s catalogue of songs and the latest club hits work well with the sparse yet believable staging. Overall the play tries hard to answer the question ‘Are women ever allowed freedom, and if so at what price?’ However the message gets lost in a cacophony of sounds, lacklustre dancing and poorly fleshed out characterisations.

 

You come away with never truly understanding the writers’ motivation. Was it to expose the shameful goings on in the night time economy or the misogynistic antics of a revered political musical legend? Whatever the motivation it is still truly a wonderful and entertaining piece of theatre that I would urge all to see, even for a taste of the legendary Shrine club, the music of Fela and the birth of a political activist the likes of which Africa and the world have yet to see again.

 

Review by: Tayo Idowu, Editor, Ebonyonline.net