Years ago, long before Touretteshero and way before getting on stage had even crossed my mind, Leftwing Idiot introduced me to a short play called Not I by Samuel Beckett. I’d never read any of Beckett’s work before, or seen it performed. In fact I had no idea who he was. But this play captured my imagination – it haunted me, it confused me, and it bored me all at the same time.
It’s the story of a woman’s life told at top speed by a disembodied mouth. Everything is in darkness except her rapidly moving lips. Throughout the play the mouth refuses to acknowledge itself, never saying ‘I’, only ‘she’.
Leftwing Idiot introduced me to this play at a time when my tics were intensifying and I was struggling to recognise them as part of me. I found it hard to talk about Tourettes without tears. I battled to ignore my tics and experiences. In fact I didn’t even refer to them as ‘my’ tics, but instead chose to say ‘the’ tics and ‘the’ Tourettes.
Years down the line the situation’s very different – I feel confident talking about my tics, and I feel proud of my neurodiversity and the spontaneous creativity it helps me access. I also love live performance, and since creating our first show Backstage in Biscuit Land in 2014, theatre’s become a big part of my life and my creative practice.
Our next big project is a neurodiverse presentation of Not I with me as Mouth. We’re claiming Mouth as a disabled character and will understand her story from that perspective.
We’ve toured Backstage In Biscuit Land all over the world. While doing this we got lots of venues excited about relaxed performances – which help make theatre accessible to people who find it hard to follow the usual conventions of theatre etiquette.
But we also heard venues saying things like, “We’d love to hold a relaxed performance but we haven’t had the right show yet” or “that could never be a relaxed performance because it contains nudity.” This intrigued me because a cultural curation seemed to be going on about what work was and was not being made accessible to disabled people.
Leftwing Idiot and I began thinking more about this and the type of show we’d like to make next, and Not I kept coming up in our conversations. We were excited about exploring how an intense piece of theatre could be made accessible on every level without reducing the intensity.
So back at the very start of 2016 I began learning Not I. It might be a short play when you speak it very fast, but there’s a lot in there. I was stunned to find line after line that spoke deeply to my lived experience.
So much of what Mouth describes I can relate to, and there are lines in the text that cut right to heart of some of the struggles, challenges and joys of having a brain and a body that work differently from other people’s expectations.
We’ve been brilliantly supported by Battersea Arts Centre who are co-producing this show with us, and we’ve had lots of amazing conversations with Beckett scholars, the Albany Theatre, disabled and non-disabled people, and the Beckett Estate who control the rights to his work.
Tonight we held an early sharing of the production with an invited audience to get feedback about where we’ve got to so far. It felt really exciting to be sharing Beckett’s work and Mouth’s story with a diverse mix of people.
On the surface it might look like Not I is a very different show from Backstage in Biscuit Land, which is a warm, joyful comedy. But l feel strongly that through our production of Beckett’s play we can extend and build on many of the themes present in Biscuit Land – accessibility, inclusivity, community, and what it feels like to experience disabling barriers.
We’re taking the show to the Edinburgh Fringe in August and I can’t wait to continue the conversations about Mouth, disability and neurodiversity there. All our performances will be relaxed, and everyone is welcome – you can book tickets here.
Mouth is a character experiencing an, ‘urgent need to tell’. I feel a similar urgent need to find creative ways to open up discussions, share perspectives, and make work that challenges assumptions about disability at a time when many disabled people are under intense pressure and hard-won equalities are being eroded.
I know that the next few months will be full of hard work, challenging rehearsals, and moments of uncertainty, but I’m excited to be working with a fantastic team of creative people on such an interesting project.