Pros: Italian lead Silvia Gallerano connects to the English language translation of her script very well.
Cons: The nudity of the actress throughout La Merda did not shock or contribute to the story. Clarity and substance was also missing in the monologues, which did not communicate any particular message through their writing or presentation.
After reading the press release and previous star ratings for La Merda, I was very much looking forward to an edgy, raw and arty performance with a strong message that would stay with me for several days. Performed by one actor alone, I knew it would be a challenge for the actress to maintain audience interest, but reputation assured me that this was a groundbreaking piece of experimental theatre. My experience, however, was quite the opposite.
On entering the Soho Upstairs blackbox studio space, dim spotlights illuminated a naked woman (Silvia Gallerano) sitting on a tall platform, quietly singing something Italian into a microphone. Her back was towards us and the stage was completely bare. As soon as the audience were seated, she launched into a monologue. It began by telling us we all needed courage, then connected the idea to her father’s courage to commit suicide by throwing himself in front of a train. I pondered that whilst we need courage to get through the obstacles life throws at us, are we meant to throw ourselves in front of a train when it gets too much? Was there a hidden irony, a hidden message – this wasn’t clear.
Gallerano’s character then moved onto body image: her unusually large thighs, and her teenage experience with a “beauty parlour” that had tried to reduce them. Whilst I believe body image is an issue that needs to be addressed, every teenager has insecurities about their looks, and theatre has dealt with this before, so the topic is not new, or particularly edgy. Whilst Gallerano’s nakedness certainly connected to the themes addressed so far, I still wondered why she was so, and what point the writer (Cristian Ceresoli) wanted to communicate. This, again, was never made clear.
Gallerano’s character – if it was a character rather than herself – didn’t develop into anything particularly interesting, or personalised. We never learned much about her other than she was an actress, her dad died when she was thirteen, and she had a slightly unconventional upbringing. I struggled to care about the woman and her issues because her issues weren’t unique. She was just like everyone else – more a collage of different people than an individual identity. Events from her past were related: there were some weird auditions, strange guys hit on her, and at school she was sexually assaulted. This final event was of course abhorrent but in its retelling, like much of the other themes discussed, it became common rather than unique. Nothing she discussed felt extraordinary, or worthy of its own show. Originally written in Italian for Italian audiences, there was a slight undercurrent of national identity, but unfortunately I missed more of this because I am not Italian. Arguably something may have been lost in translation, hence my response. But throughout the entire piece, I wondered why I was there, and why was she still naked?
The piece was delivered exclusively in three long monologues, with Gallerano remaining on the platform the whole time. Towards the end of each section, she shouted down the microphone, which was physically uncomfortable, but I remained emotionally unmoved. Vague themes were mentioned: courage, family, body image, pursuing an acting career, but other than this particular character’s ordinary experiences there was no encompassing idea or message. Gallerano connected well with the English translation of the play and had moments of good delivery, but my questions remained: Why was I watching this? What does the writer want us to take away? Why is she naked?
Writer: Cristian Ceresoli
Producer: Marta Cresoli with Richard Jordan Productions and Produzioni Fuorivia in association with Summerhall, Soho Theatre and Gorki Theater (Berlin)
Box Office: 020 7478 0100
Booking Link: http://www.sohotheatre.com/whats-on/la-merda/
Booking Until: 4th May 2014