Battersea Arts Centre, London – until 17 March 2018
Surrounded by darkness, The lower part of Jess Thom’s face is lit by a black hoodie with built-in lights. ‘Cats – biscuit – hedgehog’ frequently punctuate her rapid-fire, stream-of-conscious speech.
Thom may be most well-known for her alter-ego Tourettes Hero, a superhero that celebrates the physical and verbal tics that accompany her Tourettes. A champion for disabled people’s rights and disability arts, here she reclaims the role of Mouth in Beckett’s 12-minute monologue Not I for herself as a disabled woman.
The speed of her delivery makes it difficult to take in much of the text, which Thom acknowledges and encourages us to accept before starting. At first, this is frustrating, but as there isn’t a linear narrative, it doesn’t matter. Watching Charmaine Wombwell’s balletic BSL interpretation adds an additional visual element that enhances the performance and distracts from that frustration, a reassurance that it’s ok to not grasp everything in front of us. It’s also a wonderful juxtaposition to Thom’s delivery of the frustrated inner monologue of disabled Mouth.
There’s more to the performance than the monologue. First, Thom introduces herself and her BSL interpreter, and explains that this is a relaxed performance. Audience members are welcome to move around, tic, borrow a set of ear defenders, leave and enter the space as needed. She is warm, welcoming, and permissive; inclusivity is embedded in her ethos and it sets a fantastic example for the rest of non-disabled theatre. After the performance, there’s a short video on the making of the piece, and opportunity for discussion afterwards.
Though a great opportunity to see/hear Beckett’s Not I in performance, the additional aspects of the event make this a rich experience of acceptance, learning and critical discourse. If only all theatre and performance could be like this.