Reviews Edinburgh Fringe 2019 Published 14 August 2019

Edinburgh fringe review: Cyst-er Act by Catherine Hoffmann

Raw and clandestine: Louise Jones writes on Catherine Hoffmann’s musical about under-discussed gynaecological conditions.

Louise Jones

Cyst-er Act by Catherine Hoffman. Photo: Holly Revell

Although it left me with quite a pronounced sense of bafflement, I’ve found it hard to articulate just why the components of Cyst-er Act don’t click into place.

Hoffmann is an open performer. She’s here to strip back the medical jargon surrounding perimenopause, polycystic fibrosis, ablations: words and terms which cause a knot of anxiety to tighten in your stomach. She draws on her personal experiences, as well as interviews with women who have suffered similar gynaecological problems. Her material is raw and her relay of it feels vital and clandestine, a full disclosure of the shitty stuff that happens to women and the sheer lack of knowledge that means so many people in her position are stuck going along with the doctor’s recommended procedure. None of this should be undermined but none of this should distract from the fact that Hoffmann’s performance is awkward here, too.

She darts back to pick up a microphone, she adds laboured pauses for effect – undermining the importance of Cyst-er Act’s central discussion. And this show also muddies its through-line narrative by teasing at other larger issues which aren’t given sufficient room to breathe. Hoffmann calls out the clinically cold ‘nul para’ status with which she’s labelled at the hospital, but never goes further in challenging it than naming her cyst. By humanising this point of pain, is there a larger discussion on motherhood to be had? Never mind, it’s time for a song about cold sweats instead.

The musical element of Cyst-er Act feels like the show’s strong point, possibly because this is the most honest presentation of Hoffmann on stage. The beats are primal, the lyrics bitter and angry. Then they’re smothered by a sequined wimple, as Hoffmann introduces her poly-cysters (Sherrone C and Sarah Jane Grimshaw) in full nun garb. That glimmer of simple, unadulterated musical expression is lost.

Hoffmann et al turn the operating table into an altar, worshipping the expelled cyst whose position within this religious hierarchy is rather less cut and dry than the C of E configuration. The cyst is a metaphor for creativity, a symbol of aging, and Hoffmann is somehow now a Pope… on a surface level, this engagement with religious motifs feels far deeper than it is on further examination. As the symbols bleed into one another, the piece shows itself to be incomplete; and yes, there’s an argument to be had for the Fringe as a welcome environment for works-in-progress to develop. Hoffmann even heads up the show by calling it an ‘attempt at healing’. However, by the end, Cyst-er Act feels more set dressing and promise than a finished product. The urge to jump in and adapt this experience on stage must be strong, but here it feels like there’s not been sufficient time to step back and heal.

Cyst-er Act is on at Summerhall at 12.05pm, as part of the 2019 Edinburgh fringe. More info and tickets here

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Louise Jones is a contributor to Exeunt Magazine

Edinburgh fringe review: Cyst-er Act by Catherine Hoffmann Show Info


Directed by Jan Van den Bosch

Written by Catherine Hoffmann

Cast includes Catherine Hoffmann, Sherrone C, Sarah Jane Grimshaw

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