Performer: Jess Thom
Director: Sophie Robinson
Touretteshero: Me, My Mouth and I is an insightful and joyful documentary, following Jess Thom’s journey as she prepares for the role of Mouth in Samuel Beckett’s demanding play Not I. The decision to perform this play was cemented when Thom, a writer and performer who has Tourette’s, was told that she would never get permission to perform the role of Mouth. Undeterred, Thom’s email correspondence with Beckett’s nephew swiftly rejected this view, and so started an exciting opportunity.
Thom claims Beckett’s character of Mouth as disabled and approaches the role from this perspective. In doing so, Thom is challenging ideas of who can perform certain roles, both in theatre and in society. In fact, Beckett wanted this play to work on the nerves of the audience. Mouth’s uninhibited monologue must be delivered at speed, without pause. The language is lyrical, with sudden outbursts. Beckett’s work is also perceptive and often funny. All these things can be said of Thom.
Anyone interested in how an actor prepares will gain insight from Sophie Robinson’s slickly directed 60-minute film; part of the BBC iPlayer Performance Live series and first aired in 2018. Sadly, we are not allowed to see Thom’s performance, but we do follow Thom as she undertakes the physical and vocal demands of the play. For insight into the theatrical demands, Thom meets with Beckett scholars Derval Tubridy and Rosemary Pountney – the latter also one of the few UK actors to perform Mouth. Thom also speaks openly with friends who live with disabilities and they share stories that mirror art and life.
A particularly clever sequence opens with disabled actor and comedian Liz Carr. Their conversation is staged in matching dustbins in an homage to another of Beckett’s plays. The aptness of the absurd prevails as they discuss the ways in which Beckett impairs his characters, before turning to the Dr Who Daleks. Unable to manoeuvre stairs, Daleks were “impatient to wait for access, and got someone to write them so that now they fly”. Carr is critical: “Even they have left us behind”, but Thom appears to disagree as the following shot shows her in rehearsal on a hydraulic lift, flying high in the air.
The role of Mouth is about giving voice to the silenced; in particular women excluded from society. Jess Thom’s career as a writer and performer grew out of a disturbing incident when, several years ago, she was asked to leave a live theatre performance because some audience members took offence at her involuntary tics and noises. Humiliated, she swore never to return to a theatre again. Fortunately for us, Thom realised that her place is in fact very much in the theatre— on the stage.
Available here on until June 2020