Paul Caira reviews Expensive Shit at Soho Theatre
This is an inventive piece of theatre whose boundaries are indistinct, unlike those of the cell-like cube in which the action takes place. The steel verticals which frame the imaginary mirrors on the walls of the toilets in which the stories unfold are like bars, and the audience are both gaolers and voyeurs of the struggles against deprivation and tyranny on the stage.
This is the story of Tolu (Kiza Deen), as she is now, toilet attendant in a Glasgow club, and as she was nearly twenty years earlier as a dancer in Lagos, at the Shrine club, a resident of Kalakuta, a subversive commune run by the real-life charismatic musician and political activist Fela Kuti, the founder of Afrobeat.
In the present, she strikes up conversations of varying success with her ‘clientele’ – the three women who cast tissues to the floor and make a mess with the various effluvia of a night’s clubbing. In the past, her co-dancers dream of achieving freedom from their poverty by impressing powerful men with their dancing. All of those dreams seem vain as we know that Tolu’s escape, such as it might have been, has led her only to this lowly station in Scotland. Worse, it seems, having escaped deprivation and a life of pleasing men, is Tolu implicated in her own betrayal of her sisters?
There is much to enjoy here, and the four performers deftly switch between the different characters they play in Glasgow and Lagos. In the Glasgow toilets, the three doors at the back go to cubicles, closed-in spaces for the most intimate of functions. In Lagos, the doors lead to the stage, the men, and the girls come in through them to a sanctuary, a place where they can be safe, rehearse and gossip.
I say the boundaries are indistinct because the themes here are so broad. Even in Kuti’s idealised commune, women are to be obedient to their husbands; freedom consists of impressing men, and submitting to sex with them, perhaps surrendering virginity; once achieved it is the freedom to earn money in the lowliest fashion, the glamour and promise of youth gone. Can a woman achieve true independence from the slavering appetites of men?
Ultimately this broadness doesn’t quite compensate for a lack of specific incident and conflict, but it is an entertaining and very thought-provoking piece.
Expensive Shit plays at Soho Theatre until April 22nd