My first thought on exiting the critically-acclaimed La Merda at Arnolfini, Bristol, was “Maybe I see too much theatre?” Here was a naked woman on stage, screaming her life at me for an hour, revealing her anguish at having fat thighs and being “the small one,” telling me all about the blow job she gave to that ‘cripple’ boy, condemning her to a existence of one who is attractive to all ‘handicapped’ men, sharing with me her desperate quest to be famous, jiggling her breasts in excitement. But I left feeling that I should have liked it more, than I ought to have been whooping and clapping as heartily as most other members of the audience.
Mayfest offers a wide range of contemporary theatre from Bristol and further afield and La Merda is one of the festival’s two appearances at the equally contemporary arts centre, Arnolfini (La Merda + Arnolfini = very well suited). And our wonderful Bristol is an even brighter, ever more interesting city as a result as festivals such as this. But you can’t love everything, right?
Given, Silvio Gallerano is formidable in her appearance as a vulnerable, pain-ridden, fatherless woman. She has plenty of the child about her and has perhaps not matured fully from that 13 year-old who lost her dad. She hates her body and, infuriatingly, never sits up straight to reveal what we can all plainly see is beauty. I really wanted her to throw her shoulders back, stretch her spine, uncover her true stature, concentrate on the positivity of her breasts, hips, waist, buttocks and, bloodyhell, yes thighs! But isn’t this, for many women, a sad reality: that modern phenomenon of never been being truly comfortable in one’s own skin, of not understanding that our bodies are what enable us to move, live, run, eat, climb, love, be, that how they look isn’t really the point; it’s what they are able to do that counts? Isn’t it about the magnificient power behind those ‘ugly, fat’ thighs, not a few dimples of cellulite?
Gallerano’s delivery is crazed, she appears deranged and there is tremendous power in this. How many others in the auditorium wished they could plead with her, “Stop shouting, just calm down, Woman! Please.”? Who else felt like running out of the door to escape her maniacal rantings? Any among you using every fibre of your being to not place your hands over your ears and rock to and fro, just to make it all stop? Did you want to twist her huge, expressive, contorted mouth into a smile, get rid of that (very impressive) grimace? Not just me then?
And that nudity. I understood it was there to portray our actor’s vulnerability but I’m unsure it was completely necessary. Maybe I just want more from nakedness, perhaps I do actually see a female body as fundamentally sexual, which was probably the point too – are we all the same in that respect? A beautiful woman sits before us on a huge chair, talks about sexual acts and yet not once does she use her body in an alluring way. Who wants that?
Fuck, is this really going to be another Bluebeard for me? A performance that I didn’t actually like but that I haven’t been able to shake since I saw it almost a year ago? The kind of thing that eats into your brain, flashes before you when you least expect it?
Could be …
La Merda shows again at Arnolfini on May 23rd, 8pm
Mayfest is on at various Bristol venues until Sunday 25th May
– Review by Becky Condron