Expensive Shit is a powerful feminist masterpiece. Based on real events, the play follows Tolu (Cameron), a toilet attendant, and cuts back and forth between two nightclub bathrooms, one in Glasgow, one in Nigeria, exposing injustice at the heart of two communities.
In 1970s Lagos, Tolu and three other women rehearse their dance routine in the toilets of The Shrine nightclub. They live in the Kalakuta Republic, a polygamist community founded by the activist and pioneering Afrobeat musician Fela Kuti, which he has declared a state independent of the Nigerian government. The women dance (Yekinni in particular is fantastic), argue and dream of making it as dancers in Fela Kuti’s band.
In present day Scotland, Tolu attends toilets in a nightclub based on The Shimmy Club in Glasgow, which became infamous for having a two way ‘spy’ mirror into the ladies bathrooms (unbeknownst to them) for male patrons in private booths to look through. Tolu, paid by the men, encourages the women to spend more time in front of the mirrors, to leave the cubicle door open, to wear red lipstick. Meanwhile she recalls her nights in the Kalakuta bathrooms, as we learn about the parallel fate of the women in each club.
As Tolu, puts it: ‘The country change, the city change, the people dem think they change, but I tell you dem shit the same. Dem all dey run from it the same.’
Sabina Cameron leads a strong cast, the nightclub montage of drunk women is witty and comi-tragic, the recordings of Fela Kuti reveal a politics that is both revolutionary and deeply misogynistic.
One man in the audience complains that the play is ‘a bit too shouty’. I’ve seen plenty of shows where the actors assume that the louder they are, the better the performance. This is not one of them. Expensive Shit is defiant and bold. The play is full of humour and jubilant dancing. Anger doesn’t weaken the performance, it fuels fierce discussion about the position of women in supposedly progressive contexts: present day Scotland and Fela Kuti’s Kalakuta. It is about complicity: Tolu’s and ours. We, the audience are cast as the men behind the mirrors. Tolu asks us what we want to see. She calls out ‘show yourselves!’ as the lights come up. We are exposed.