“Welcome to my mind … you’re in safe unpredictable hands” says Jess Thom – writer, performer and artist, sporting a very cheeky grin.
I like her already.
Jess has Tourettes Syndrome – a neurological condition characterized by repetitive involuntary movements and vocalisations, called tics. In Backstage in Biscuit Land (BIBL), an incredible autobiographical piece in this year’s Melbourne Festival programme, Jess is celebrating the humour and creativity of Tourettes.
Matthew Pountney, close friend and creative collaborator, has dubbed Tourettes as a “crazy language-generating machine”. And therein lies the genius behind BIBL. It’s completely brilliant, hilarious and disarming – introducing people to the Neurodiversity movement, which recognises that all our brains are different and work in different ways. In doing so, it debunks stereotypes and misconceptions whilst increasing understanding, focusing on the joy and encouraging inclusiveness.
BIBL is a combination of storytelling and stand-up, puppetry and singing. According to Jess, it “utilises sound, lighting and AstroTurf” and given the nature of the condition, guarantees that no two performances are ever alike. We’re told from the outset that Jess’s co-star and fellow collaborator, Jess Mabel Jones, aka Chopin, has an emergency show plan should it go completely off track, but with Jess’s warmth, vibrancy, intelligence, honesty, irreverence and obvious comedic talent, I don’t think anyone would be too fussed.
From the moment Jess and Chopin deliver their material, they’re eliciting squeals of delight, laughter and some very loud snorting from the audience. So too the Auslan Interpreter, Jasmine Phillips, who was utterly mesmerizing with a fabulously expressive face, and did an amazing job of interpreting the work by nailing the timing, nuances and spontaneity of it all. Seriously, I could go see this show again and again.
You’ve got a format that includes ‘about me’ introductory pieces – Jess confessing that she’s trying not to do anything liable whilst Chopin makes the startling revelation that she doesn’t like elongated vowels. There’s game show segments, sing-alongs, a Mother Theresa cardboard cut-out and a pitch from a horny wheelchair. And most importantly, two breathtakingly poignant monologues, one recounting the appalling intolerance of some individuals and the second, revealing how Jess learnt to embrace her tics and begin this beautifully poetic surreal creative life.
It’s inspiring. It’s inciting change. What’s not to love about that!?
2016 Melbourne Festival
Backstage in Biscuit Land
Writers/devisors Jess Thom, Jess Mabel Jones & Matthew Pountney
Venue: Beckett Theatre | The Coopers Malthouse, 113 Sturt Street Southbank VIC
Dates: 12 – 16 October 2016
Tickets: $52 – $28