Jess Thom has Tourettes, a condition which makes her say 'biscuit' 16,000 times a day. Her unusual neurology gives her a unique perspective on life and in the guise of Tourettes Hero, she unleashes this perspective on the world with a glorious two-woman solo show entitled Backstage in Biscuit Land which weaves comedy, puppetry, singing and tics to explore disability, creativity, spontaneity and things that you never know would make you laugh.
The show wowed audiences at the Edinburgh Fringe this year and I had the good fortune to see it for myself last night via the Culture Hub at St Helens Central Library.
Jess dressed as Tourettes Hero and her co-star Chopin
Right from the off this was a real rollercoaster ride of entertainment. As an audience member you never knew what to expect, thanks in no small part to Jess' neurological inability to stay on script! No matter, because you were more than happy to go along with each wildly diverting turn thanks to the utter charm both Jess and 'Chopin' exude. Their humour and outlook on life is deeply infectious and it didn't take long to get on their wavelength and appreciate Tourettes in a whole new light.
It's fair to say that inbetween the funnies - and there was so much funny; seriously laugh out loud tears in your eyes stuff - Jess offers a deeply insightful and thought provoking point of view as to what her daily life is like. So many preconceptions about Tourettes that I had were instantly blown away as she discussed, inbetween those tics which ranged from 'hedgehog' 'hairgel' 'merry christmas' 'happy birthday' the occasional 'fuck' and of course, 'biscuit' , her difficulty with walking that now sees her largely confined to a wheelchair (and her obsession with various types and models of chairs available on the market!) her near constant beating of her chest which means she now must wear padded gloves to save her hands from any injury, her early years and being diagnosed with her condition and also her fitting. Perhaps the most striking anecdote was the one where she discussed going to see the political comedian Mark Thomas live. Despite alerting Thomas, the theatre and the audience to her condition, some audience members still complained about what they viewed as 'interruptions' coming from her and Jess was asked to sit in the sound booth for the second act. It's a real sobering eye opener to consider just how different things that we would take for granted such as seeing a show are for someone like Jess.
But before things got too deep, Jess and Chopin returned to comedy discussing how impossible a game of I-Spy is for someone with Tourettes, a quick round of 'Fingers on Buzzards', the creative joy that is a baby grow decorated with Les Dennis' face, a free biscuit for every audience member and finally a rousing rendition of the tic inspired song entitled 'We're having sex with animals again and they all like it hard in the face!'
Jess and her alter ego
Afterwards I got the chance to meet Jess and have her sign her book (a collection of her blog entries, with a foreword from Stephen Fry) for me and she proved to be a lovely friendly warm person who was genuinely touched by the audience's favourable comments. I would urge absolutely everyone to take the opportunity to see Jess Thom if ever her show comes near you. It's an inspiring, incredible one off - a chance to laugh and learn.
Below you'll find Jess' showreel featuring her many appearance on TV, stage and YouTube
Jess' website can be found here Tourettes Hero and her YouTube channel is here YouTube