The Sh*t/La Merda
4 stars ****
Summerhall (Venue 26)
3 stars ***
Pleasance Courtyard (Venue 33)
4 stars ****
Summerhall (Venue 26)
FIRST, A WARNING. If you are too fragile, around nine in the evening, for the experience of being shouted at for an hour by a beautiful, stark-naked Italian woman perched on a high metal platform in a bleak and echoing Summerhall lecture theatre, then Cristian Ceresoli’s new monologue The Sh*t – first seen in Italy earlier this year, and now performed in a fierce, shattered English by Silvia Gallerano – is probably not for you.
Yet if, on the other hand, you would like to see the one show on the Fringe that single-handedly nails all the images of distressed 21st century young women that pervade this year’s programme – their extreme anxieties about body image, career, fame, identity and meaning – then I would suggest you screw your courage to the sticking-place, and take on board this devastating stream-of-consciousness monologue about a young would-be actress facing up to an audition in modern Italy, and all the sh*t, literal and metaphorical, that passes through her mind and body in the process.
In the foreground, there’s the desperate search for celebrity, the severe eating disorder, the constant threat of sexual neurosis and exploitation; in the background, a recurring image of a father in a red shirt, and of a world of political action and possibility devastated by history. And although Gallerano should probably tune her voice a little to the boomy acoustic of the space she’s in, there’s something about the unreserved, operatic intensity of her performance, its terrible sadness and seething rage, that speaks volumes about the condition of young women today, in Italy and across the west; and about the vital ways in which the feminist revolution of the 1970’s failed, and remains incomplete.
Over at the Pleasance Courtyard, meanwhile, the multiple award-winning Belgian group Ontroerend Goed are sponsoring an independent show by young company members Nathalie Marie Verbeke and Charlotte De Bruyne, in which a pair of well-to-do middle-class western girls sit in front of their laptop screens, desperately trying, through images from the news, from social networks, and from new and old movies, to achieve the intensity of emotion denied to them in their comfortable, empty lives.
in an infuriating yet oddly touching display of teenage self-absorption, they act out scenes, skype one another, and try to work themselves up to the point where they might actually start to cry. And although it’s easy, from an adult perspective, to see that life will give them reasons for real tears soon enough – and that in the meantime, what they need is something useful to do with their time – their show also sharply identifies, and begins to explore, a genuinely chilling aspect of a culture which encourages adults and children alike to indulge in weird kinds of emotional voyeurism, weeping over celebrity deaths and television reality shows; while effectively shutting down our capacity for empathy with the real people around us, and encouraging us to view them with hostility and fear.
The Scottish theatre-maker Jenna Watt, meanwhile, is a young woman who rejects the stance of the voyeur and bystander, frightened to walk the real-life city streets around her home; instead, she wants to be a “flaneur”, a purposeful stroller who fully inhabits the streets of the city, and helps to make them a safe and convivial human habitat.
Watt’s Flaneurs, at Summerhall, is a sweet and gentle but richly thoughtful show, in which Watt uses maps and simple shadow images – as well as sound, photographs, voiceover interviews, and her own monologue – to explore the story of a male friend who was attacked in London, and her own response. Her message is that if we want to live in a decent and joyful society, then we perhaps need to act, or react, when we see public space being abused, rather than just standing and staring; but she delivers that idea with such a quiet sense of poetry, and such a subtle range of means, that she leaves plenty of room for our own thoughts, on the vital question she raises about the way we live now.
Until 26 August, 26 August, 26 August
pp. 319, 337, 278