La Merda is not a show for everyone. Silvia Gallerano, who has already won a Stage Award for acting excellence for her performance at the Edinburgh Festival in 2012, strips herself bare, literally and metaphorically. It’s an hour where the audience is battered, repulsed, shocked and scorched. It’s a show easy to admire but difficult to like.
Cristian Ceresolli‘s debut play is written as a symphony in three movements: The Thighs, The Dick, The Fame with a counter-movement running through it; Italy. An actress (it could be anyone at any time or place- she is a physical and vocal mask for the words and ideas to flow from) tells a personal story of the false idol of fame, of first sexual encounters in school car parks with cripples, of her obsession with her thighs, of her broken relationship with her father, of the extreme methods used to gain the advantage in an audition. It’s got hints of Beckett’s Not I as words tumble out uninterrupted, broken with howls, shrieks but never allowing itself to break into an easy rhythm. The language is stark and poetic, like the best symphonies one false note would ruin the effect. Each movement builds from a light tinkle into a crescendo and Gallerano plays each note with utter conviction.
We first encounter her draped on the back of a platform centre stage, fully bare except for a smear of red lipstick. Vocally her pitch is high and otherworldish, an innocent not ready for the corruption that society will place on her. As each movement follows the pitch lowers until we hit the climax and Gallerano shrieks, her voice deep, rumbling, possessed of the devil. It is an extraordinary performance from her, naked emotionally just as much as physically. You desire to turn away and switch off but you can’t. She holds you in thrall to her tale and its bracingly wincing conclusion of what she is prepared to do to achieve fame (for those that can translate the title from the Italian, it may give some idea).
The politics may resonate more in Italy where it originates but it is theatrically startling. I wouldn’t be able to put myself through a second viewing, but I’m glad I saw it, if for no other reason then to witness the most extraordinary acting performance likely to be seen in the South West this year.