Scorch @ Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh 12th May 2017
Amy McAllister plays Kes (the nickname she has given herself after watching the Ken Loach film of the same name), an adolescent girl who sees herself as a boy despite the two items that have suddenly erupted from her chest Alien-style. Her love of films also extends to Ryan Gosling. Not that she fancies him; rather she wants to be him. During her attempts to meet like-minded people on Meetup and through Skype, she starts chatting to another girl named Jules online and finds herself falling in love. Using her male persona she manages to get a chance to meet the latter face-to-face.
This one-woman play is based around various “gender fraud” court cases that have taken place around the UK in recent years. As such, it probes areas that are rarely touched by artistic mediums: gender identity, how it is formed during adolescent years, how popular culture feeds into it, and the prejudices related to it that - despite laudable efforts at counteracting them in recent years - still exist in parts of society.
Scorch, a play by Belfast-based company Prime Cut Productions, relies very much on Amy McAllister’s performance, and she manages to grip the audience’s attention like a vice. Mixing frantic monologues with occasional bouts of jerky dancing, her style might take a few minutes to fully accustom to but ultimately gets the boyish adolescent act down to a tee: excitable, hyperactive and gawkish. At times she establishes further intimacy and involvement with audience members by sitting down with them (in chairs marked “reserved”) and even speaking directly to those next to her. The script is littered with references to video games, music, social media and movies - but these don’t come across as self-conscious or wannabe-hip. Rather, they establish a collage of influences that bear upon Kes’s life, through which she moulds her own specific identity.
Some credit is also due to the show’s imaginative lighting effects (by Ciaran Bagnall) and sound design (by Carl Kennedy), again tying into the social media and popular culture references in an apt and atmospheric manner. It’s an involving and unusual piece of theatre, well worth seeing.