The Shit / La Merda, Summerhall

Originally written for Exeunt.

In the absence of adequate words that it leaves in its wake, it is tempting to characterise Cristian Ceresoli’s searing collection of monologues as one long, piercing scream. Such a description certainly captures the raw, bruising intensity of the piece, an intensity that rips the breath from your lungs. But it also ignores the open tenderness of that same wound, a wound that is scabbed over and viciously picked at in a relentless yet compelling cycle. In Ceresoli’s creation, pain is a constant presence.

The pain we experience is that of an unnamed woman, perched high on a platform in the centre of Summerhall’s gloomy Demonstration Room. As played by the astounding Silvia Gallerano, she is naked in every possible sense of the word, bare save for a slick of blood red lipstick. Microphone clutched in hand and limbs protectively folded, she speaks with startling directness, nothing to separate or shield her performance from the audience other than the few metres of air in between.

Ceresoli’s equally naked writing has the quality of a symphony, teasing out recurring patterns of notes. The speaker is obsessed by her thighs, by the false idol of fame, by her painfully terminated relationship with her father. Repeated words puncture the text: courage, sacrifice, alone, self. It is a boldly honest exploration of the values we attach to our identity and the ways in which we define ourselves, be that against our family, our nation or the cruel expectations of the media.

In interrogating notions of identity, the piece becomes a fascinating study of what it means to be a woman, as well as what it means to be this specific woman. Although written by a man, this is intensely about female selfhood in a way that is not reductive or – that awful criticism of writing by or concerning women – domestic, but simply, honestly, starkly truthful. No thought is taboo, no impulse censored or diluted. It is the stream of consciousness of Virginia Woolf married with the spitting rage of punk.

Despite the conspicuous lack of stagecraft – all that ever appears in the womb-like space is platform, performer and microphone, simply lit by spotlights – this is as theatrical a piece as is likely to be found at the fringe this year. It is overwhelming proof of the power of the performer, Gallerano holding the audience immovably rapt by her open, direct address, every last muscle seeming to move with the text. Brittle yet achingly vulnerable, her voice has the slightest wavering hint of a tremor even when she cracks jokes, before releasing astonishing intensity when an acknowledgement of selfhood is finally ripped out with convulsing screams: “Me! Me! Me!”

Consumption – and, as the title would suggest, excretion – are at the pulsating heart of the piece. Eating here is a method of control, of sacrifice. Like the octopus at the aquarium that her father tells her can eat its own tentacles, the speaker describes a hunger-crazed fantasy of eating her fingers, an act that she is convinced would usher in the fame she so desperately craves. It is as though by eating her own flesh, absorbing and thus hiding a part of herself, she can transform herself into a tastier morsel for the greedily consuming public. It is, like the piece as a whole, a deeply unsettling comment on society, the female experience and the construction of identity.

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