Nightclub that let men watch women in bathroom inspires Fringe play
A storm of controversy over a Scottish nightclub which installed a two-way mirror to allow men to spy into the women's bathrooms has inspired a major Edinburgh Festival show this summer.
The Shimmy Club in Glasgow was closed for a week after complaints that it was allowing men to hire out private function rooms to watch women using the handbasins.
Three years on from the furore which made headlines around the world, an award-winning theatre-maker has written a new play based on what was happening at the club, without the knowledge of its female customers, and the issues it raised.
Adura Onashile’s play Expensive Sh*t will focus on a Nigerian toilet attendant working in a fictional nightclub in present-day Glasgow, inspired by The Shimmy, which is part of tycoon Stefan King’s empire of venues in the city.
Publicity material for the play by Onashile, who was born in London but is of Nigerian descent, states that it will be “set in a world where the male gaze reigns supreme” and will reflect current issues in Britain, “where women are still grappling with the issues of objectification”.
The production is to be staged as part of Made in Scotland, an official Scottish Government-backed showcase, at the 70th Edinburgh Festival Fringe this summer.
The story of the main character’s “dark and conflicted journey” will be interwoven with memories of her past as a dancer in the famous Shrine club in Lagos. It was run by the Nigerian musician and political revolutionary Fela Kuti.
The story is said to be “as much about women being disenfranchised and marginalised by the world of clubs, music and politics as it is about a single woman’s desire to have power and control over her life”.
Onashile said she wanted the play to also tackle her own “difficult relationship with toilet attendants, often of Nigerian descent and working in exploitative conditions, most of the time making all their money from tips nobody wants to leave”.
She said: “Here we have a classic intersectionality of race, class and gender and female spaces, and the intrusion of the male gaze within that private space.
“I hope these are good grounds for exploring the drama that might be inherent in this set-up – the way we look at ourselves, the way others look at us and how much power and agency we have within that.”
Onashile had a starring role at the Fringe in 2013 in a play about Henrietta Lacks, an African-American woman who had a cell sample taken without permission which was used as the raw material for a host of important scientific discoveries.
Onashile previously starred in the multi award-winning Fringe play Roadkill, a powerful drama about sex-trafficking, which was staged inside a private flat in Edinburgh city centre.
The Shimmy Club came under fire in May 2013 after it emerged that spyglass had been installed in two of its £800-a-night private function rooms. The company initially defended the installation of the spy mirror, saying it had been installed as “a talking point” and had been intended as “a bit of fun”.
However, Glasgow’s licensing board forced the club to close for seven days amid concerns that there were no notices or signs to inform female customers they were being spied on.
Speaking to the blog site TYCI, Onashile said: “I have a particular interest in telling forgotten or hidden stories and histories – stories that cannot easily be seen in black and white or right or wrong terms, where uncomfortable truths sit side by side.”