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  • Flora Gosling

Review: Expensive Shit (The Lemon Tree)

Updated: Jun 10, 2022

Well, you gotta appreciate a show that gives you the opportunity to say “Shit” loudly in a bar after your grandmother doesn’t hear you the first two times. This was “Expensive Shit”; a touring show coming from the Traverse Theatre Company in Edinburgh and written by Adura Onashile. The story follows Tolu, a Nigerian immigrant and toilet attendant in a Glaswegian club, where she encourages women to stay longer and show off their bodies for the enjoyment of men concealed behind a two-way mirror. We also get to see a flashback to when she and her friends practiced in the toilets of a nightclub in Lagos, dreaming of a dancing with legendary musician (or so I’m told) Fela Kuti and of true freedom.

Though not typically enthusiastic about dance, these were my favourite scenes in this wonderfully original and feminine piece. Dancing to three Afro-beat songs, presumably by Kuti, the four actresses (whose names I must apologise for not learning or finding) stomped and crash from one move to another. The movement was incredibly strong and energising, and yet they were all clearly projecting their characters as they danced. Transitioning from one setting to another, something I am quickly learning can make or break a performance for me, were wonderfully smooth with a change of lighting and accents. The set appeared as a box containing a bathroom, cleverly positioned so the audience were glared at as though they were the perverted men on the other side of the glass, as well as putting across the message of how caged the women, particularly Tolu, feel.

The performers of these caged women were very believable, most switching character when the setting changed, particularly the lassie in the green dress who played two characters who were polar opposites without a single misplaced step. They all felt as though they had a surplus of energy stored away and ready to burst, which it does in its satisfyingly aggressive finale. That said, the performance leaves you wondering what actually happened. The Glaswegian nightclub was based on the real-life Shimmy, which lives on with new mirrors in the ladies toilets. But I had to google it to find that out. The end was, in my opinion, a tad rushed and a tad focused on the defiance of objectification than the story it was trying to tell.

That seemed to be a problem with the whole performance – the narrative could not always hold up. Situations were explained too quickly to process and annoyingly a lot of the time had to be spent figuring out what I missed in the dialogue that followed. Perhaps this is just me though. That said, I would be lying if I said the Nigerian accents were easy to follow. Convincing? Yep. Clear? Less so. Also, there was a lingering question of exactly how Tolu got from Nigeria to Scotland, given we’ve established how little freedom she is permitted. Granted, that could be clunky to try and add to the story, but the performance felt a little bare without some explanation.

Overall though, it didn’t bother me. The story was interesting, Tolu made an interestingly conflicted character and the imagery, both in the script and on stage, was wonderful. Even though it was only an hour long, it is certainly a great night out, even if it makes you avoid public loos for a wee while after. Four stars.

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