10 years on from its 2012 Fringe debut, La Merda remains raw and relevant. Christian Ceresoli’s script offers a unique dissection of a female actor’s consciousness from childhood through to the precipice of celebrity. Layered commentaries unfold on Italian nationalism, the lamentation of a patriarchal golden age, contemporary bulimic consumerism, and the pervasive experience of female bodily objectification. Performed by Silvia Gallerano, with her bare body atop a raised stool in Summerhall’s sinister Demonstration Room, the audience was shocked into submission by her confronting dynamism.
A confrontation with the violence of being alive
Gallerano’s virtuoso technique excluded the possibility of generic narration so common to one-person performances. Tying a web of images together, she whispered and shook, sang and screamed her way through a polyphony of voices, delivering each via a hand-held microphone. The characters she channelled were both compelling caricatures and starkly real representations. It was as if each threatened to overwhelm the sporadically vincible woman at any moment, slicing away at her determined autonomy unless she overcame them first.
An initial technical malfunction accompanied by a panting dog that stunk of piss added to the preview’s special atmosphere as she sat like a subject about to be experimented upon. Gallerano’s ability to handle this specific set of circumstances and, indeed, to incorporate these happenings into the performance itself was testament to her inspiring skill. La Merda seemed inherently bound to her daring style, her ability to channel the abject and express the fragments of shit which make up everyday life. Everything and nothing was regurgitated through her body, which remained stuck to the seat and yet seemed to constantly change.
The stark lighting and lack of sound design, apart from Gallerano’s bracingly unique voice, were hardly noticeable since her performance filled the space, moving beyond the stage and penetrating the audience, who remained hypnotised by her figure throughout the play. This barren image, alongside the cyclical nihilism of Ceresoli’s writing, seemed to communicate the most basic essence of theatre itself: a confrontation with the violence of being alive.