Backstage in Biscuit Land

Edinburgh Festival Fringe Scotsman review (theatre): Backstage in Biscuit Land at Pleasance Courtyard (Venue 33). Review by David Pollock.

Jess Thom has Tourette’s, and it’s an indicator of her ability as a live artist that she doesn’t just get through her show in spite of it, but her performance excels precisely because the tics are as much a part of that performance as they are of her. That’s not to say she’s in complete control. She sits in a wheelchair because her walking is too erratic, and wears bright pink padded gloves because she keeps punching herself in the chest. These and more potentially harrowing details of her life – that she can’t be left alone because her seizure-fits are potentially life-threatening; that she ends a meal as messy as a baby – are introduced during the show.

Yet they are incidental to the resounding sense that by the end we feel much closer to the bubbly, eloquent person she reveals to us than the physical difference we first see. Backed by actress Jess Mabel Jones, Thom’s stage set is filled with representations of ideas the Tourette’s involuntarily brought her: Mother Theresa; a circular saw; four ducks dressed as velociraptors. Jones acts as an assistant, but also apparently has an emergency script in case Thom has a fit and needs to recover. Her best friend, who she calls Left Wing Idiot, is on hand for support.

The comedy is clearly aimed at accessibility for a Fringe audience, and a few segments are a little fluffy – for example, an audience-participatory Mexican wave featuring the shouted word “biscuit” (Thom fixates on certain words, and at the moment says “biscuit” about 16,000 times a day). Yet in her tale of developing this show, from audience members complaining about her at a Mark Thomas gig to revelatory experiences at a Francesca Martinez show and a Young Vic relaxed performance where she first saw Jones onstage, a poignant and vibrantly instructive thread develops about the healing power of art and the right of everyone to access it without fear.

Until 16 August. Today 1:55pm, more info.

Originally published in The Scotsman

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