Beckett and Biscuits

It’s Sunday, I’m lying in bed, and I woke with the first light creeping in around the edges of my bedroom blind. A moment ago I pulled it up to let the light fill the room. Then I sank back into bed. Ahead of me is a day without plans – I can relax, potter and rest after the incredibly intense opening week of our new show ‘Not I’.

My sense of calm isn’t just because I have a day off, it’s because last night’s performance felt extraordinary.

When we set out to tackle Samuel Beckett’s short play ‘Not I’ we had a strong sense of what we wanted to create and why, but it also felt risky to take on something so different from anything we’d done before. I worried about alienating people who’d enjoyed the warmth of our first show, Backstage in Biscuit Land, or about upsetting Beckett enthusiasts with a new take on his work.

My worries quickly faded thanks to the support of Battersea Arts Centre, the Beckett Estate, literary scholars, and other disabled artists. We brought together an amazing team with specialisms as diverse as circus structures and British Sign Language (BSL).

When we opened on Wednesday night I felt so proud of what we’d created together, although there was still a little part of me that was nervous about what people would think.

Over the last few years I’ve been advocating strongly for ‘relaxed performances’ – shows that take an inclusive approach and are relaxed about sounds and movement coming from the audience.

Some venues and artists have expressed reservations about the type of work that’s suitable for a ‘relaxed performance’ – there seemed to be many people who thought quiet, serious, or adult shows were off limits. We wanted to challenge this by demonstrating that intense theatrical experiences could be made ‘relaxed’ and accessible without diminishing their intensity.

Last nights show was sold out and our big and brilliantly diverse audience included four people with Tourettes, a crew of BSL users, as well as a number of people from the wider disability arts scene. Although there have been people with tics at other performances, lots of the tics last night were similar to my own. When groups of people with Tourettes get together their tics can sometimes trigger each other so I knew this show would test my concentration in a new way.

It felt so right!

The show was lively and joyful. Charmaine was brilliant at conveying my involuntary chatter in a visual way. I ticced about clitorises – I don’t think she’d ever thought she’d be signing that in front of her mum, who was in the audience, and a room full of strangers.
During the intense monologue, Beckett’s words poured out of me and in the scripted silences it was not just my ‘Biscuit’ tics that rang through the space, but the ‘biscuits’, ‘lamas’ and ‘squeaks’ of the others with Tourettes.

In future when I hear worries expressed about noise from the audience disrupting performers I’ll be able to say with renewed confidence that it often actually means that performers focus more intently, improving the quality of the piece.

Charmaine and I both left last night’s show feeling invigorated by the energy and mutual support in the room.

What I’ve come to appreciate about Beckett’s work is that he doesn’t just write about something – he makes you really feel it. In that same spirit our show last night was not just about the benefit of inclusivity it was a demonstration of it. I trust that I’m not the only one waking up this morning feeling replenished by this experience.

I’m looking forward to a couple of days of rest, but I’m also keen to jump back in to ‘Not I’ again next week. The show’s on at Battersea Arts Centre until Saturday 17th March. Please do join us if you can. If London’s too far then watch this space as we hope to tour the show in the UK and internationally in the near future.

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