Jess Thom’s performance of Samuel Beckett’s Not I breaks down not only the text through the interjections of ‘biscuit’ throughout, but the sense that this modernist monologue must be enjoyed by a soberly pensive audience that then talk about it afterwards. Here the audience are introduced and welcomed by Thom, who outlines the parameters of the project and introduces those not familiar with her Tourette’s Syndrome to its manifestation and impact on her performance. The integrated BSL of Charmaine Wombwell is a constant visual score to everything that occurs. There is preparation and a welcome before the performance. After we’re settled, we sit in the dark where we feel the performer raised into position eight feet above the stage, and listen to the rustle of the hood that obscures all but her mouth in accordance with Beckett’s stage instructions. Thom delivers the rapid text clearly and powerfully, as strong a performance and as necessary as any other.
This performance of Not I reclaims Mouth (the central character within the monologue) as a disabled figure, one that Thom states she found instantly familiar. As Mouth narrates the rising tide of words that bursts from her, Thom discusses how it reflects her own experience as someone with Tourette’s. After performing the abstract and oblique monologue, Thom comes back down and sits with us, asking our opinions and answering any questions that we might have about the text or her performance. It’s an intensely open performance of an often-impenetrable text, one that takes it down off some imaginary pedestal and asks its audience to chat about how it can speak to us today. Whilst there has been some pushback recently against the renovation and repurposing of ‘classic’ dramatic texts, exemplified by the firing of Emma Rice from the Globe and the statements of David Hare, Touretteshero’s version of Not I reasserts the value of rethinking new contexts for great writing. Continual reinvention is always preferable to staid orthodoxy.
- Lewis Church
Links relevant to this diagnosis:
Jess Thom on Not I - Guardian
Emma Rice Bows Out as Artistic Director of The Globe – New York Times
An Open Letter to David Hare – Exeunt