On election night in the Brighton Dome Studio Theatre we learn that “Nigel Farage is at home washing his tortoise.” And Jess Thom aka Touretteshero is on fire, an irrepressible force of nature, welcoming her audience to Biscuitland with a charm and an affectionate grin that cannot fail to woo. Review by Colin Hambrook
I don’t know who could have predicted that Jess Thom would be the major hit from the tranche of artists and companies who won small research and development awards for Unlimited 2014?
Reading her book, ‘Welcome to Biscuitland’ first published in 2012 after appearing on Stephen Fry's 2011 BBC documentary series ’Planet Word’, you get an insight into the challenges Jess’ faces with her condition and of her creative potential, but although the book is entertaining in places, it is more of an educational read.
Having seen her at the Southbank Centre last summer and DaDaFest last winter, I was delighted to see the show had been programmed for the Brighton Festival. The performance at the Dome was a much more polished and on-script Touretteshero than I’d seen before. Exuding confidence, the relationship between Thom and her compadre Jess Jess Mabel Jones has become closer and more tightly knit with cues and strategies designed to frame the anarchy and stay on track.
And there is a lot of material to get through: the fingers on buzzard contest, the strawberry-eating marathon, the Biscuit Mexican Wave. Jess Thom is so at home on stage you would easily be led to believe that she lives there to share the riot burning in her mind to quote one of her tics. The other side of the sheep-rearing, animal sex singalong is political, savvy side of her act raising awareness of the big green toothbrush importance of the Independent Living Fund. This is a disability arts designed to tell non-disabled people how it is; how we are being threatened and abused by the powers that be!
The warmth between the two Jess’ shines through on stage and the audience lap up the light, colour and humanity that is Thom’s trademark stage persona. It is hard to imagine any of our best surrealist comics, past and present, engaging their audience in what is effectively both a deeply personal and political journey with some of the most gleefully outrageous and intelligently spontaneous language you’ll experience.
There is pathos and humanity in spades and although, yes, you could argue that there is something of the novelty value that makes Touretteshero appealing to an audience, Backstage in Biscuitland goes way beyond the standard Disability Arts comedy routine.
Jess Thom has a gift for spontaneity that will make you cry with laughter…
Backstage in Biscuitland shows at the Pleasance Theatre, Edinburgh in August. Please click here for listings information