In Woolwich, two Nigerian immigrants attend to the toilets in a busy nightclub. Sophie (Bunmi Mojekwu) helps women fix their makeup and sells them lollipops and celebrity perfumes. Abiodun (Joe Shire) sells condoms and is forced to sing: he's the smiling black man, there to please and amuse. Counting Stars examines the lives of unnoticed figures, telling the story of people who are often overoverlooked.
Using dialogue that addresses the audience directly, writer Atiha Sen Gupta and director Scott Hurran play with tension throughout, squaring the intertwined stories against each other. Sophie convinces herself it doesn’t matter that she earns less than minimum wage because she helps people; Abiodun knows he and Sophie are worth more. While in the female toilets Sophie feels like she could make friends, unfettered testosterone makes the gents a dangerous place. Sen Gupta shines a harsh light on the gendered realities the pair face, simultaneously articulating their difficult plights.
Shire’s climactic performance is one of the finest elements of the production, every inch of his body taut as he takes on the roles of two men squaring up against each other in the bogs. Unfortunately, in this moment, Mojekwu is largely immobile. Rather than Sophie’s unawareness becoming a spark for greater suspense, her silence only dampens it.
Counting Stars shines a spotlight on two compelling characters stuck in a situation that shouldn’t exist.