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Backstage in Biscuit Land, Pleasance Courtyard, review: Remarkable Tourette's-inspired comedy

The humour is black but it's also daft, and in places, impossibly moving
  • @alicevjones

There are not many shows that begin with a warning about what will happen if the performer has a fit on stage. But this is no ordinary show. It is the debut of Jess Thom, a performer who has Tourette's syndrome.

This means that she delivers her one-woman show from a wheelchair (her violent tics make it difficult to stand up) and beats her chest involuntarily throughout.

She also peppers her script with random words and phrases like “Hello cats!”, “Once in November, motherfucker!” “Oh! Bryan Adams”, and most often “biscuits”, a word she utters some 16,000 a day. She is, she says, “neurologically incapable” of sticking to a script.

Tourette's is both Thom's co-star and subject. It is, she says, the “most frequently misunderstood disease on the planet”.

Only per cent of sufferers have obscene tics (“I am one of them!”); she is just as likely to shout about domestic appliances or B-list celebrities as she is to shout 'fuck!' She describes what it feels like to have a tic boiling up inside, trying to get out. She takes the audience through her routine, her rota of carers and her seizures.

To keep her on track, she is accompanied, warmly and wittily, on stage by Jess Mabel Jones, an actress she met when she went to see a “relaxed performance” at the Young Vic. In fact, it was a different theatre trip which inspired the show. A visit to the Tricycle in 2011 that ended in humiliation for Thom when she was moved to a sound booth with no view of the stage after some of the audience complained about her at the interval. In time it led her here, to her own stage, the “one seat in the house where I won't be asked to leave”.

Is it funny? In places, very. “You're allowed to laugh”, she says and while it soon becomes quite easy to ignore her tics, at times they are used to great comic effect.

“I-Spy something beginning with... STAIRS!” she yells. “I-Spy with Tourette's is quite a quick game.” The humour is black but it's also daft and uplifting, and in places, impossibly moving.

At the start, Thom calls the show a “near impossible task”, but she pulls it off with chaotic, likeable flair. Like the best comedy, it makes you look at the world in a different way. Remarkable.

To 16 August (0131 556 6550)