Scorch by Stacey Gregg.
Directed by Emma Jordan. Presented by Holden Street Theatre’s Edinburgh Fringe Award in association with Prime Cut Productions. Holden Street Theatres – The Studio. Feb. 14 – arch 19 2017. Adelaide Fringe.
Reviewed by Peter Wilkins
I found Prime Cut Productions performance of Scorch by Irish playwright Stacey Gregg disturbing. This was not because of the content about a teenage girl coming to terms with her sexual identity. Nor was it because of Amy McAllister’s vigourous performance as the bewildered Kessy, but because of society’s cloistered view of any deviance from the perceived norm.
Kessy realizes at the early age of eight that she is not like other girls. At thirteen she identifies with male entertainment and video games and aspires to be like Ryan Gosling. She even attempts to pee standing up. Dressed in boy’s clothing she appears androgynous, inconspicuous and devoid of determinate gender. She finds her escape through a world of virtual reality. At nineteen, she meets another teenage girl. Jules, online and strikes up an online relationship. When Jules realizes that Kessy is in fact a girl, she exposes her for gender fraud which brings the confused and distraught Kessy before the court.
Stacy Gregg’s play, inspired by recent gender fraud cases, offers a warning and a plea for understanding. Kessy acts with honesty and teenage impulse. Gregg’s script is visceral, spurting forth the earnest confessions of her protagonist caught in a whirlpool of confusion and defensive impulse, seeking acceptance and offering explanation. And yet the law obscures all vestige of compassion and Kessy is therefore answerable before the law for her deception and judged deserving of incarceration. It is a judgement fraught with intolerance, prejudice and ignorance. It is the disturbing verdict of a court strangled by the harsh judgement of societal misunderstanding, punishable in Kessy’s case by three and a half years, commuted to six months’ imprisonment.McAllister’s performance is initially electrifying in its sheer verve. Limbs jerk and contort in the chair as the character bursts into life amongst the audience. The stage is set in the round as though the audience are participants in Kessy’s confessional. She darts from side to side, suddenly sitting next to a member of the audience and engaging her directly in her story, seeking explanation, describing predicament and as swiftly leaping into the centre to create the world of a teenager, absorbed by music, celebrities, and her confused identity. The pace is fast and expressive and it takes me some time to tune in to McAllister’s accent. I am seated away from the floor and lose quite a bit of the dialogue as McAllister directs her story to the audience in the round upon the floor. The mood and tone shift as she sinks to the floor, bewildered and confused by the legal quagmire in which she unsuspectingly finds herself. The shadows of injustice thicken as she is sentenced. It is the sentence of a law framed by men, devoid of reason, insensitive to any deviation from their perceived notion of what is natural.. The thick veil of homophobia, the cruel stereotype and the intransigent laws of a land that brands the outcast alien define the treatment of those who dare to be different.
McAllister’s performance rings with resounding truth. Kessy is a girl, who loves wearing waistcoats; a teenager seeking love and acceptance, a young woman betrayed and a victim of cruel injustice. Gregg’s play avoids wallowing didacticism, McAllister’s skillfully tuned performance offers genuine honesty and Scorch fires a clear path towards tolerance and acceptance.