Adura Onashile’s play opens with the sound of Nigerian musician Fela Kuti’s music. His poetic voice bellows over the track: “long live Nigeria, viva Africa,” his political activism spreading the message of peace to the nation. But alongside his advocacy of unity, Fela believed men and women were not equal. In Expensive Shit, Onashile parallel’s 1980s Nigeria with modern-day Glasgow to powerfully demonstrate the way some spaces are constructed to exploit women and objectify their bodies.
When Tolu was in Nigeria, she dreamt of becoming a dancer in Fela’s band. Along with her friends, she would rehearse constantly, determined to join this revolution. Now, Tolu is a toilet attendant in a Glasgow nightclub. Every evening she sees different kinds of women, those who want to get drunk and dance, and those who want to impress guys and pull. When the owner asks her to help the men in the club gain intimate access to these women, Tolu is forced to accept his financial offer, and reluctantly uses the women for her own gain.
Tolu is performed by Sabina Cameron with great skill, and she captures the character’s intelligence and humanity perfectly. Joining Cameron on stage are Teri Ann Bobb Baxter, Jamie Marie Leary and Diana Yekinni, forming a strong and energetic group. All four performers are particularly captivating when we see them practising their choreography to Fela’s rhythmic Afrobeats. Their moves are on point, and they ooze power with their unity on stage.
Onashile uses the two locations to emphasise the lack of change in male attitudes. Initially, the archaic polygamy of Fela Kuti is contrasted by the sense of liberation the young women in Glasgow represent in the nightclub’s toilet. They move freely, in and out, applying make-up and getting drunker as the night goes on. Meanwhile the dancers in Kalakuta practice their routines tirelessly to entertain Fela. What is established in the end however, is that men still believe they are entitled women’s bodies, with or without consent. Onashile’s dynamic writing is engaging and relatable, and lined with subtle humour. Along with the impressive performances, Expensive Shit is a brilliant piece of new writing that will resonate with you for a long time.
Expensive Shit is at the Traverse Theatre until 28th August (not 22nd). It transfers to the Southbank Centre in London from 1st – 3rd September as part of the Africa Utopia Festival.