Jess Thom is a performer who lives with Tourette’s Syndrome. She is returning to the Pleasance Courtyard in Edinburgh to present a brand new production in her own unique style. She was in Edinburgh a couple of years ago with Backstage in Biscuit Land, a comedy show about her experiences with Tourette’s. The performance this year is very different. Jess has decided to tackle the experimental Samuel Beckett play Not I.
The show is an accessible relaxed performance where the audience is encouraged to walk around, stand up or leave the venue if they need to. All the spoken words from the show are presented on a screen to the side of the stage, while Charmaine Wombwell does BSL interpretation. The space that the performance takes place in is a welcoming one. Jess is sat in a chair, dressed in black and is attached to a large device that looks like a crane (the purpose of which is revealed later). Not I takes place in the Pleasance Grand venue, however not in the traditional sense. The audience is sat on the stage with the performer in front of them. We do not have chairs, instead we sit on benches or pillows that are on the floor. This creates an informal and relaxing atmosphere and allows the audience to get ready for the intense and whirlwind performance that ensues.
The crane device raises Jess eight feet in the air. The lights dim and her mouth is lit up by a bright yellow light. Jess eloquently performs the text of Not I with a bold and proud voice. The show is a monologue that is filled with abstract images and stream of consciousness expressions. Jess fully takes on the role of ‘Mouth’ (the nameless character of the play) and gives a fantastical and breathless performance. The words of ‘Mouth’ are interspersed with Jess’s verbal ticks and the effect is startling. The word “biscuit” is repeated over and over and rhythm and flow of the piece is given a new and unique interpretation.
The 12 minute performance is followed by a screening of a short ‘making of’ documentary film. Here we go behind the the scenes of the production and understand why Jess decided to interpret Samuel Beckett and we witness some of the problems that she and the production team encountered. This film screening is then followed by a discussion where we learn that Jess was interested in creating a performance within the context of neurodiversity that is accessible to all. Her enthusiasm and passion for creating new and diverse work is awe-inspiring and makes Not I a distinctive and creative approach to a classic text.