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Jess Thom Performs Samuel Beckett’s Not I

March 3, 2018

Not I is a monologue by Mouth. It is difficult to learn much about Mouth in the 13 minutes the monologue lasts, but the audience learns enough. The monologue is abstract, not written in complete sentences, but that is not the only thing that makes it unusual. Usually, monologues are written and spoken in the first person, by the central character. Not I is written and spoken in the third person, about Mouth.

The audience learns that Mouth is a woman who has lived to be 70 and has never known her family. We learn that she never speaks, unless she gets the ‘sudden urge to tell’ which happens ‘once or twice a year’ and ‘always in winter.’

The incomplete, abstract structure of the monologue makes it a difficult piece to follow. It has few stage directions, except that Mouth is suspended 8ft in the air in the dark, with only her mouth lit up. The fact that the audience can’t see her face, and that she is at such a height, makes it even more difficult to follow the piece.

I had never seen or read any Beckett before, and Not I did not leave me desperate to read his complete works!

After the performance, Jess Thom screened a short documentary explaining why she chose to perform the play. As a woman with Tourettes Syndrome, Thom strongly identifies with Mouth and cares about her as a character. She sees Mouth as a disabled character and speaks with a passion that is difficult to ignore about the similarities between their lives, and about the importance of disabled actors playing disabled characters.

This version is certainly an original interpretation of a classic text, but who cares that Thom’s Mouth sits in a wheelchair, or that one of her Tourettes tics is the word ‘biscuit?’ Not I!

Not I runs at the Battersea Arts Centre until 17 March 2018. All performances are relaxed and fully BSL interpreted.

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