“…she’s such a mistress of precision mis-timings”

Table, Moon, Ball, Bunnies and Melon Reviews

Two four One One

“Hail, Cathy [Butterworth], full of Grace [Surman]. (Yes, this is my fallen Catholic background revealing itself.) Grace is on a table balancing, in red heels and kneepads, on a pale Swedish ball. Cathy, standing on a stool, holds up the latter. It represents the moon. Grace speaks of ‘new ways of seeing the world’ (but who was she quoting?). We get a lot of different moons. (Ha, the two women were in effect mooning us!) One is a pale bucket that contained the body parts of plush toys.

Digression: All of the shows’ various props were ready to hand on a long, upstage table or two, but most of the action occurred downstage. C & G were aware of us, talking to us or at us. (Interesting to observe during Juncture when performers actually look spectators in the eye or instead direct their gaze somewhere else, above or heads or…) But despite this work’s self-referential and postmodern nature I felt it was being constructed for our benefit. In other words, not just an aesthetic wank that we’re free to watch or detach from. These two want to engage with us.

Cathy is a zaftig blonde and in some sense the foil for Grace, who is dark-haired and lightly dolorous. Grace has a Madonna quality and I don’t mean Madge but rather Jesus Christ’s mama. (There I go again with the religious upbringing, tch.) I can picture her in a religious painting, eyes raised heavenward (as, by the way, happened in the Belgian-made show later this same night). There’s something not quite on earth about her, whereas Cathy is more solid, grounded and plain bigger physically. They’re a good double-act.

So, Grace wears a card table with a hole in the centre as a costume. We are told, by her, that the objects she uses are very familiar to her and they in some sense determine a show’s structure. She word plays subliminal and sub-minimal. Cathy is both helpful in bringing Grace into articulacy and somewhat disapproving at least as a stage persona. Grace moves while she is inside that table – inside its hole. Like a doughnut/donut that’s square. The music to Come Together – tight and cool – is used several times as soundtrack and bridging device. Cathy speaks of Joseph Beuys’ famous encounter with a coyote. So this work is in part educating us about significant figures in the history of performance art, live art, whatever you wanna call it… Cathy holds up a huge sheet of soft, shimmering aluminium foil as Grace travels in imperfect circles on her knees clutching all the plush toy animal body parts to her chest.

What they are doing is self-consciously quirky but I like how committed they are to their smartly daft-seeming actions.

Grace bounces on the Swedish ball to her own vocalising of Beethoven as she swings a small toy fish on a rod round her sheet-covered self. I don’t know why, exactly, but I don’t care. It’s amusing in large part because she conceals her body and the ball. This was a droll, tongue-in-cheek, knowing performance, unpretentiously pretentious and a send-up of the artifice of performance whether comic or dramatic. It exists somewhere in between but more on the side of humour. Cathy and Grace don’t take themselves too seriously but you know they believe in what they do. And that’s something we want – make that I want – from what I give my time over to…”

Donald Hutera, Juncture Festival 2014

“Grace has been a long time favourite pursuing her own lines of enquiry in a completely idiosyncratic and delightful way. I love her intelligence, her presence on stage as if butter wouldn’t melt, and her forensic wit and savagery. There’s always great music too. This new collaboration with Cathy Butterworth is so welcome; make sure you make a space in your day for this.”

Annie Lloyd, Compass Live Art

“What an intriguing and refreshingly different performance, a work that slips between live art and theatre and yet simultaneously breaks down the distinction between the two terms.  The visual materials and objects that the artists used to form shapes were gently and humorously sewn into the fabric of the poignant narratives told about women and the important marks made in history by those who fought and hid in cupboards for our rights. In a subtle and provocative way, the work gives us a short history of performance art but through no means via a lecture but through a conversationally warm tone and with us, for us. Referencing Joseph Beuys and his Coyote piece as curatorial anecdote and wildly playing with Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights, signed as a satire and as a reminder of the politics and semiotics of language between art that is task based and performance that is theatrical. Punctuated throughout these beautiful stories that reside in the politics of practice, Grace Surman reminds us to check out the moon and we do, for a long time – it’s made out of tin foil, and a whole host of other materials and, it is during these marked moments we think about our place in the world, well in fact the Universe.  Incidentally, we are also asked to imagine a lobster running across the theatre space – a genuinely hilarious image which we could not possibly forget. At last, live art that has a brilliant sense of humour. The audience consisted of Theatre students, Yorkshire artists, parents from a local school and academics from the University.

Students were fortunate enough to experience a workshop with Grace and Cathy – they learnt a great deal about the wonderfully rich spaces to be explored in between task based work and theatricality – between the live image and still object. Their work is consistently rigorous and playful and offers the opportunity for students to think about the dramaturgy of sculptural performance and liveness.”

Dr Claire Hind, York St John University

Table, Moon, Ball, Bunnies and Melon is such a great piece for the students to encounter because it’s so challenging on some levels but so completely accessible on others. Its clear lines, beautiful visual quality and crafted structures are wonderful. It also offers a perfect lesson in how to perform the self.”

Chris Gilligan, University of Central Lancashire

Table, Moon, Ball, Bunnies and Melon, was full of wonderfully unpredictable shifts and surprising ideas that left this member of the audience little time to get his bearings, which was fine by me, as it made the performance all the more compelling. Cathy’s appearance and comment from the doorway brought to mind the measured concern of a ward sister or hospital consultant monitoring a cherished patient; taking care not to unsettle or alarm one of their charges. There were the changes of direction as if in one moment spontaneity ruled and yet in the next instant the procedure suddenly seemed as if it could have been routine… And there was the admirable physicality throughout, the playful props, the nostalgia in the music, the nuances of apparently major significance… the tiny details and half gestures amidst all that fascinating action.

There was so much in the piece, from the tension and expectation within the dramatic opening tableau with Grace balancing so skillfully on that bloody big ball… Time for all present to think about what it might mean… So much there in what followed; ideas runneth over into other ideas… I loved the wit within the seemingly disjointed moments of dialogue… And all with such gloriously deadpan delivery.

For me, nothing that was said or took place from the outset could be taken for granted or ignored. Beckett was on hand in bucketsful.

Delightfully bonkers in the best possible way.


Sean Halligan