Caro Meets Theatre Interview

Adura Onashile: Expensive Shit

By | Published on Wednesday 29 March 2017

Adura Onashile’s ‘Expensive Shit’ won huge acclaim at the Edinburgh Festival last year, winning a much coveted Fringe First. Set in two different places at two different times, and featuring the music of Fela Kuti, it explores gender, power and class.
To find out more about the play, I had a quick chat with its writer and director, ahead of the show’s run at London’s Soho Theatre.

CM: What is ‘Expensive Shit’ about and where is it set?
AO: Expensive shit is set in the toilets of two different clubs, one in Glasgow in the noughties and the other in Lagos, Nigeria in the late 90’s. It explores the objectification and exploitation of women in both the high octane world of Fela Kuti’s Shrine Nightcub and in the infamous Shimmy club in Glasgow.

CM: Who are the central characters?
AO: The central character is Tolu, the toilet attendant, we follow her story in the club in Glasgow, with three other female characters, on a fateful night where she questions the choices she is asked to make.

CM: What themes and/or issues does the play aim to address?
AO: Power, exploitation, the male gaze and what female empowerment or lack of might look like.

CM: What inspired you to write a play about this subject? Is it based on anyone in particular?
AO: I was uncomfortable with the exploitation of immigrant Nigerian women as toilet attendants in clubs, being paid mostly by tips no one wants to leave. How could I give her power and agency within these exploitative conditions? How could I create a complex character who we might feel ambivalent about?

CM: Can you tell us a bit about the music used in the play, and its relevance to the script?
AO: In the Shrine club in Lagos, our younger toilet attendant dreams of being a dancer in Fela Kuti’s band. We see her practising in the toilets with other women who have the same dream. The Fela Kuti songs I chose all have something to do with the themes of the play, sometimes in an inverse way. for example ‘Lady’ is a song that belittles female emancipation but we celebrate it and ‘Zombie’ questions the exploitation of power and ruling classes.

CM: Would you say it’s a political piece of writing?
AO: Yes.

CM: What made you want to direct it yourself rather than handing over to someone else?
AO: Writing the piece came first and I knew choosing to direct it would be tough. It’s difficult switching between a writer’s and director’s head. Directing is something I have always wanted to do, so I decided to just go for it. Bold and risky, but somehow this fitted with the ambitions of the play.

CM: What attracted you to a career in the theatre? What steps did you take in beginning your career?
AO: Inspiring Drama and English teachers, creating a passion for stories and how they are told. I think my journey was pretty typical. I got frustrated at the parts I was getting as an actor, and wanted to tax myself, push myself more, so started looking at leading my own projects.

CM: Where do you see yourself headed in the future?
AO: I’d like to continue working with material that inspires and challenges me, as a writer, director or performer.

CM: What’s coming up next?
AO: A solo piece about dancing and writing, inspired by Zadie Smith, Jamaica Kincaid and Josephine Baker.

‘Expensive Shit’ is on at Soho Theatre from 4-22 Apr. For details, see this page here.


Photo: Eoin Carey