Theatre Review: NOT I – The Lowry, Salford

NOT I Jess Thom

Intense and powerful, Tourette’s hero Jess Thom uses Samuel Beckett’s incredibly complex text to bring light to Tourette’s Syndrome in NOT I

Jess Thom has Tourettes, a condition that means she makes movements and noises she can’t control, called tics. In NOT I, she takes on Samuel Beckett’s short play in a theatrical experience that explores neurodiversity and asks who is allowed to perform what and who gets the final say.

Friendly and informal, the relaxed performance feels begins from the moment you enter the theatre as Thom and her BSL interpreter Charmaine Wombwell invite the audience to sit on various benches and cushions on the ground. The nature of this performance means that it is acceptable for audience members to tic, get up and move around if needed with Thom encouraging the audience to chatter and relax, evening join in with the conversations and banter herself as she explains the nature of the show.

As the performance starts, the lights go down and Thom is raised several feet into the air, her wheelchair swinging somewhat precariously. The only things that are lit are her mouth, as Thom’s character is literally named Mouth, and Wombwell, who serves as the Auditor. This creates an eerie atmosphere, suited to the erratic, unnerving text. Thom performs this difficult piece with impressive technical ability. The text itself is sporadic and hard to follow at times but provides an interesting insight into the character’s mental state.

Beckett’s text lends itself nicely to BSL interpretation, as his stage directions call for a separate, lit body on stage. Wombwell does incredibly well not only to keep up with the speedy monologue that is NOT I but to successfully integrate Thom’s tics.

But it is Thom herself who really makes the show. Her bubbly personality and passion shine through during the discussions with the audience and some of her tics are always sure to raise a laugh. She’s raising awareness but having fun doing it, as well as telling her own story. She also works to create an enabling environment for disabled audience members and performers, so that absolutely everyone can enjoy the theatre.

4 out of 5 stars

NOT I runs at The Lowry, Salford until 21 November 2018.