Backstage in Biscuit-land
Jess Thom talks Tourette’s to an entertaining effect at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe
This article is from 2014.
‘It’s the only place I can sit in the theatre without someone asking me to leave,’ observes Jess Thom from the stage at the start of her simple but appealing show. Over the next hour, it’s quickly apparent why audiences elsewhere might find Thom’s presence distracting, but by putting herself at the centre of her performance, Thom turns the tables on those who would prefer to segregate theatres, and emerges triumphant.
Thom is careful to describe her condition as a ’neurological condition’ rather than a mental illness. She makes sudden involuntary movements and her speech is peppered with seemingly random words, usually ‘biscuit’, ‘hedgehog’ or ‘cats’, and sometimes more complex, abstract outbursts. She explains this is caused by a form of Tourette’s, a problem which has left her requiring a wheelchair because of the issues controlling her muscles.
If that makes Backstage in Biscuit Land sound like hard going, then think again; Thom’s show is one of the most light-hearted and charming imaginable. Whether struggling to eat strawberries, playing I-Spy, taking part on a ‘fingers on the buzzards’ quiz, or recounting the difficulties she’s had attending other people’s shows, Thom is a fascinating raconteur, making a virtue of her own problems, and finding a universal appeal by articulating on behalf of a marginalized group.
It’s hard to say exactly how much of Thom’s show is scripted and how much is spontaneous; some of her involuntary word associations are so abstractly beautiful that it seems incredible that they’re created on the spur of the moment. And there’s a sublime rudeness about the show’s structure; any show that ends with a planned sing-a-long in which the audience extoll the virtues of animal sex is pushing boundaries. The joke is that Thom can’t help herself, and pulls the willing audience into the realms of the surreal with her. Thom is a delight to watch in this unexpected, inspiring glimpse into her weird and wonderful world.
Pleasance Above, 556 6550, until Aug 16 (not 11), £11 (£9 concs).