Scorch

One of the things I’ve noticed about this year’s Fringe is the number of stellar one-woman shows, and Prime Cut Productions’ Scorch is the best so far. Stacey Gregg’s story of a gender-curious teen’s first love is both intimate and politically charged, bringing to the stage controversial cases of ‘gender fraud’ in all their complexity.

Gregg is tremendously good at writing for a young character, and it’s refreshing to have a protagonist who’s not especially articulate

Amy McAllister plays Kes, a naïve teen with an infectious personality, feeling her way through her unsure sense of gender identity. Gregg is tremendously good at writing for a young character, and it’s refreshing to have a protagonist who’s not especially articulate. In simple terms, she stresses that she doesn’t fancy Ryan Gosling (as her friends assume); she wants to be Ryan Gosling.

McAllister completely inhabits the in-the-round space, careening across the stage to perch in the aisles and jaggedly dancing to Kavinsky’s Nightcall, her convulsive movements driving home the anxiety and confusion surrounding her body. McAllister’s energetic physicality is just one of the ways Scorch is more visually exciting than the sometimes static setup of your average monologue. The immersive lighting and sound charge the play with Kes’s youthful energy, and the audience is cleverly cast as a sympathetic LGBTQ support group. But eyes are also fixed in every direction on the self-doubting Kes as she’s thrust into the public eye after her relationship turns bad.

The second half of the play, which responds to a spate of ‘gender fraud’ cases since 2012 (where women, often trans, have been accused of impersonating men to gain sexual intimacy), plays out like an escalating nightmare, hurting all the more after the joy of the first half and the intimate relationship we’ve established with Kes. There’s just enough ambiguity that, whilst we’re always been instinctively on Kes’s side against a transphobic media and legal system, we occasionally get a glimpse of the trauma inflicted on her lover Joules, who is often incredibly cruel to Kes, but is also incredibly hurt. Kes’s own pain is all the more real when we share in her doubt about how responsible she can be held for Joules’ suffering, and it’s heart-breaking to hear her admit to herself “I did those things”, her infectious optimism cracking under her sense of guilt and alienation.

We’re left with a vivid impression of how hostile the world can be for people like Kes, and how the supposedly innocent experience of first love can result in trauma and legal action through no fault of their own. Scorch is a story that needs to be told, and is essential viewing for any Fringe-goer.

Reviews by Simon Fearn

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Performances

Location

The Blurb

For those who don’t feel like they’re in the right life the web is a place to be yourself. ‘Happiness. Aching, constant, consuming – on there it’s more real than real life. I’m honest on there. I’m being honest. That’s important.’ Out in the real world though, things can be very different. A story of first love through the eyes of a gender-curious teen, Scorch examines how the human story often gets lost amidst the headlines. ‘The real life issue takes on heightened dramatic resonance, fractured and splintered by Gregg’s syncopated prose style’ **** (Irish Times).

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