Review: Cyst-er Act

Women’s health is put centre-stage in this messy new musical

theatre review (edinburgh) | Read in About 2 minutes
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Cyst-er Act
Published 18 Aug 2019

Catherine Hoffmann grew an ovarian cyst the size of a 22-week-old baby and had to have her fallopian tube removed. Here, she turns her journey through many a doctor’s waiting room into an absurd mash-up of music, ritual and medical storytelling, where she and her two back up singers, or “poly-cysters”, sing their way through her journey back to health.

This is a raw personal story and Hoffmann’s fury at how little women are taught about their bodies rings loud and clear. But as a show it lacks clarity, both in performance and dramaturgy. Many aesthetic decisions feel gratuitous: fun in a rehearsal room but doing little for an audience. There are notes of care (one woman bathing the other with a sponge) and comedy (tying forceps at the thigh like guns) but as a whole the show is muckier than a surgeon’s post-op gown.  

Hoffmann veers between awkward and authoritative. She whimpers one minute, leads a raunchy song the next and all of a sudden flips to yell in our faces. We’re never sure where we stand with her. The narrative lacks focus, with the actual operation glossed over and the rest of the show left to free-float.

The trio try to unpick and make sense of the medical jargon by shoe-horning the science awkwardly into show tunes, but the humour is cringeworthy and the comedic value runs out quickly. This is a topic we need to talk about more, but it'd be better just to sit with Hoffmann and have a chat about it instead.