Thursday, November 19, 2015

Scorch - Exploring gender, uncertainty and where the law meets teenage naivety (The MAC until 21 Nov)

During the hour long performance of Scorch, Kes recounts her experience growing up as a boyish yet “debonair” eight year old with a collection of natty waistcoats, embedded as a teenager in the masculine world of gaming, yet with “boobs … that just pop up overnight” and don’t fit her body image.
“Everyone thinks I fancy Ryan Gosling. But no. I want to be Ryan Gosling.”

Ciaran Bagnall’s translucent stalactites hang over the circular stage surrounded by amphitheatre seating (last used for Villa and Discurso in the Chilean trilogy season of plays). Like any young person, Kes is interrupted by alerts and beeps as new messages arrive on new computer … and the overhead lights glow blue. Carl Kennedy’s sound design includes a playful riff on the Skype ring tone that the Ulster Orchestra should add to their concert repertoire.

A single-handed show performed in the round could be an lonely experience for an actor, but as Amy McAllister moves around the room, she slowly befriends the audience who form the rest of the support group she attends.

It’s a place where Kes can feel “free – like online – except in a real room with [bad] coffee”.

Over a period of years we listen to her explore her gender and make the leap from online friendships to real world relationships. Yet when Kes falls in love with Jules, her hood and hat are not the only source of disguise and confusion. Going with the flow, naïve Kes neither feels the need nor is comfortable raising the subject of her internal conflict.
“A girl can’t be charged with raping another girl.”

A court summons for sexual assault and fraud shocks the audience that has relaxed into the story of discovery and growing confidence. Was Jules deceived? Is there any chance Kes was grooming Jules for sex? What started out as romantic has broken laws and hurt people. “Do we have to fill out a questionnaire before going into a bar?” asks a friend.

Amy McAllister delivers the lines with a rhythm and a fragility that brings Scorch to life. (She was recently on stage in the Lyric Theatre’s The Shadow of a Gunman playing the 23-year old patriot Minnie Powell with fidgety feet and expressive eyebrows that got her into trouble.) It’s an outwardly simple yet engaging piece of theatre that marries a strong performance with an effective set and interrogates our understanding of gender identity and sexual orientation.
“Made into a tragic character … played in a game at maximum difficulty.”

The brilliance of Stacey Gregg’s script and Prime Cut’s production is that there are no attempts to produce neat endings, no moralising, and no campaigning. (The play is inspired by three or more real world transgender examples.) Tuesday night’s audience left the theatre and stood leaning on the first floor railings in the MAC talking about the issues and wondering where right and wrong lay.

Well worth getting along to The MAC to see Scorch before the run – and Outburst Arts Festival – ends on Saturday 21 November.

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