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La Merda, Soho Theatre Upstairs – Review

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.

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…

Summary

Rating

Very Poor

With only a repetition of general themes, and a character journey revolving around bodily functions and gratuitous nudity, this piece does not say anything new or narrate a cohesive thread.

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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

About Laura Kressly

Laura Kressly
Laura is a former actor on a good day, or ‘failed actor’ on a bad day. She works in Drama education, as a children’s entertainer, an event catering waitress and a private tutor and is way too old to have this many jobs. She has a degree in Theatre Performance from Marymount Manhattan College in NYC and an MFA in Staging Shakespeare from the University of Exeter, both of which have qualified her to work entry-level jobs and "(if you can't do,) teach." She co-ran a fringe theatre company she founded for 5 years but learnt the hard way there are easier ways to lose money. She loves any form of theatre really, though Shakespeare is her favourite and dreams of going back on the stage one day.
  • Giovanni Bienne

    and now if you want to read the review of someone who actually hat the aesthetic and intellectual abilities to understand what was going on (i’m not objecting to the bad review per se) and not someone who clearly stumbled into the soho theatre by mistake, read Lyn Gardner’s review http://www.theguardian.com/stage/2014/apr/21/la-merda-review-silvia-gallerano

  • Hi Giovanni, I think it very unfair to claim that our reviewer didn’t have “the aesthetic and intellectual abilities to understand what was going on”. It seems to us that anyone who sees a show is qualified to have an opinion about it. Our reviews are written specifically to cater for anyone who might want to enjoy a night of theatre – not necessarily people with any level of assumed knowledge. If to enjoy this show you must have some specific level of “aesthetic or intellectual ability”, then I think that we are justified in not recommending it (considering our mission statement)! However, we accept some might enjoy it more than us. I think we can all agree that this is a show which will polarise audiences… just as Lyn said “this show will not be to everyone’s taste”!

    • Giovanni Bienne

      i think i was being very kind, in fact. a reviewer should have more knowledge than the average punter and the ability to convey that knowledge in a way that will make sense to said average punter, not just to record impressions. it’s a bit like someone who’s only ever read jackie collins and heat magazine (and there’s nothing wrong with that) writing a treatise on nabokov – you wouldn’t want that, would you?

      • Well, we clearly have a difference of opinion on what a review should be. At the end of the day, it depends on what audience you expect for the production: if you only want a select kind of person to be able to enjoy the show, then your attitude is fine. But if you want anyone to be able to enjoy the show, and draw in a wider and more diverse audience, then you need to take on board constructive criticism like what is said in this review.
        To respond to your Heat/Nabokov analogy: no you probably wouldn’t want that person’s insights into Nabokov. But then again, if you were trying to give a guide into how people who usually read Jackie Collins could start enjoying more diverse and interesting novels, you probably wouldn’t immediately tell them to read Nabokov. They would probably hate it and feel alienated from that kind of literature, with the “that’s not for me” attitude. And then they might give up reading better books altogether, because they had a bad experience.
        Our attitude to theatre is similar. It is a great artform which has incredible power, but many people feel that “it’s not for them”. We aim to promote theatre to everyone, and spread the enthusiasm – we believe any person off the street can enjoy theatre. However, some stereotypes of theatre as a an elitist and hermetic artform need to be overcome. This is why we do not adhere to your point of view.

        In any case, I don’t dispute that your perspective is as valid as ours. However, I hope that my explanation helps you to see the matter from our perspective too.

        • Giovanni Bienne

          If you are suggesting (which I’m not saying you are) that a show like La Merda (I know I’m generalising terribly and for that I apologise) is inherently more elitist than, say, a Coward revival in the West End (something I do not believe), then what you’re saying may well be true. But believing that limits you as a potential reviewer because it means you go into it with an inbuilt bias and think in terms of accessibility, allowing to colour your attitude to it. Anyway, thanks for the reply and explanation.