There is surely nothing more British than the cocktail of awkwardness, embarrassment and slight irritation that comes with encountering a toilet attendant in a club – people whose lives we don’t understand, offering a seemingly demeaning service we don’t really want.
Adura Onashile’s deceptively ambitious play ‘Expensive Shit’ looks an attendant in the eye and asks her to tell us her story.
Tolu is from Nigeria, and used to live in Kalkuta, the commune of the Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti – she hoped to become a dancer for his band. Clearly this did not work out: in what would appear to be the present day, Tolu is working in a British nightclub, where she passively aggressively wheedles money out of women who’d rather she wasn’t there. It’s only in flashbacks to Nigeria that she looks truly happy, in athletic, explosive dance routines that she and three slightly fractious pals practise to Kuti’s hypnotic sprawls of song.
Sabina Cameron is excellent as Tolu, a genuinely problematic character – she is embittered by her present and her past, and though you can often see her heart going out to the various women who stumble into the bogs with trivial, drunken problems, she does not have the heart of gold one initially expects. She’s also sardonically amusing, riffing bleakly on her job: ‘I have a degree in shitology’, she grumbles.
‘Expensive Shit’ is strong on empathy, boasts fine performances, and has excellent, pulsating choreography from Lucy Wild. But while I think it’s all in the service of a valid point about the problems of women finding escape in male controlled environments, the play rather fell apart with a late twist that pushes things into the realms of the improbable.