A Pagan ode of sorts (in part to a cyst, in part to a fallopian tube), Cyst-er Act is a’messy live art musical probing into the bloody realms of the womb’. Written and conceived by Catherine Hoffmann in response to her experience of having an ovary removed, she and her poly-cysters, Sarah Jane Grimshaw and Sherrone C, romp through gynaecology, sexuality and ageing to conjure rites of passage that heal and celebrate the female body.
Aptly staged in Summerhall’s Demonstration Room, the show opens with Hoffman lying on a table, her legs spread apart in the vaginal examination position. She’s wearing a pink Grecian robe with orange tights. Her poly-cysters play doctors who ask clinical questions. They rap about public health, waiting lists and ‘not making a fuss.’ In order to discover what’s growing inside her, the patient Hoffman must navigate her reproductive body via an impersonal, mechanistic system.
Turns out that at age 45 she has a phantom pregnancy – it’s an ovarian cyst the size of a 22-week-old baby, which she christens Leonard. But how did he get there? Was it because of the egg and follicle or did Hoffman summon it through underlying emotional causes?
In a slick and hilarious transformation, the ladies morph into Charlie’s Cysters to perform a speculum-wielding choreography which is a highlight of the show. With speculum microphones, speculum weapons and speculums in every orifice, they sing about the myth of the cyst. Farcically serious, the work considers very real questions about women’s health and how to integrate mainstream science with holistic medicine. When our bodies are out of control, what choices do we make?
Leonard-the-cyst is eventually removed, along with one ovary and a fallopian tube, to be symbolically reclaimed as a bowl of pink slime. Post-op, when the ovary blues kick in, ‘Coma Chameleon’ (after Boy George) is sung as Hoffman struggles to heal from invasive surgery, now zombified on heavy-duty medication.
In ‘real life’ how do we recover from a traumatic intervention? The cysters create a cathartic ceremony to purge the pain by converting into shamanic nuns, screaming death metal and banging things (I cover my ears). Then stripping off their habits to become comfortably nude, they incant a Marian prayer with impressive gospel harmonies to revive The Vagina. The resurrection back to life seems to be working!
Hoffman’s ovarian cyst takes her full cycle through pop, prayer and punk to re-empower the feminine through physical and emotional recovery. She has invoked the Goddess and been anointed with petals. It’s been proud anarchy on stage and the ladies emerge resilient and divinely naked from the riot.
A salute to sisters doing it for themselves!
Featured image (top): Catherine Hoffmann: Cyst-er Act. Photo Holly Revell