A “crazy language generating machine.” That’s how one of Jess Thom’s friends described her Tourette’s, the neurological condition, characterised by involuntary physical and verbal tics, that makes her say ‘biscuit’ thousands of times a day.
While primarily an attempt to explain what it is to live with Tourette’s and to challenge misunderstandings about the condition – only a small percentage of people with Tourette’s swear, though Thom is one of them – her show is far more than just an exercise in awareness-raising. It is also a celebration of neurodiversity and the poetic energy of Tourette’s. Her tics are frequently very funny, like wonderfully absurdist word-salads, and at times they can be quite mischievous. Her co-performer Jess Mabel-Jones is often called upon to think quickly, to riff with her.
Some of her longer, more complex tics tend towards the surreal, though recent revelations have given the ones pertaining to animal sex an unexpected topical edge: Thom’s tics are having a grand old time with Piggate.
Thom is also a campaigner, the co-founder of the charity Touretteshero, and she speaks passionately and persuasively about the need for greater inclusivity in the arts. She describes how humiliated she has felt in the past, when asked to sit apart from the rest of the audience because of the noises she makes, and all of her performances are by their very nature relaxed performances. The show she made as a result – due to be screened by BBC4 in November – is a properly joyous thing, funny, informative, and eloquent about the need for theatre to be more accessible to everyone.