Date: 2 May – 7 May 2017
Inspired in part by the real life case of Justine McNally, who was sentenced to three years in prison for entering into a sexual relationship with a teenage girl who believed her to be a boy, Scorch, by Stacey Gregg is an intense but thoughtful work which explores the quandaries of gender identity. There is a potential for sermonising, but Emma Jordan for Prime Cut directs with sensitivity and intelligence.
The power of this production lies in Amy McAllister’s portrayal of an educationally limited girl who lacks any understanding of her sexuality and pays a high price.
All she knows is that since the age of eight, Kes (the name she gives herself and not her ‘other name’) has been different, alien. She has a collection of waistcoats; attempts unsuccessfully to pee standing up and is obsessed by Ryan Gosling, not because she has a crush on him, but because she wants to be him. She lives in a world of gaming, where her avatar feels more real to her than her actual self and it is here she meets Joules and starts a relationship.
McAllister totally inhabits the in-the-round space, prowling across the playing space, talking directly to the audience and sitting in the stalls. The monologue is punctuated with jagged dance routines, highlighting the character’s anxiety and confusion with her body and is enlivened by clever light and sound that brings to life the noise of teenage life – the beeps of instant messages and the recognisable ring of Skype. The audience is unwittingly cast as Kes’s LGBTQ support group, where she discusses breast-binding and the labels like non-binary and trans which confuse her as much as they enlighten her.
Mc Allister’s is a winning performance, open and humorous yet vulnerable, which makes the second half of the play all the more nightmarish as Kes is charged with ‘gender fraud’. The warm relationship she has built up with the audience is tested as we get glimpses of the pain that Joules has been through, and although our sympathies might waver, the play is firmly on Kes’s side. For Gregg, there is no deception. Kes claims to have been ‘the best boyfriend’ Joules could have had, but wider questions about consent and fraud are pushed to the background.
Despite this, Scorch is an affecting piece of work, carefully weaving metaphors that leave a vivid impression of the pain and confusion that people like Kes go through, and how unrelenting society can be in its opinion of them. As Kes recounts how a lawyer repeatedly asks her ‘what are you?’ we are reminded what an essential and thoughtful production this is.
Cast – Amy McAllister as Kessy
Written by Stacey Gregg
Directed by Emma Jordan
Set & LX by Ciaran Bagnall
Sound by Carl Kennedy