Stacey Gregg’s powerful new play explores the treatment of gender-curious young people in the eyes of the law. Amy McAllister plays Kes – a young woman who has always thought of herself as more like a boy. She likes playing video games and in those, you’re free to be whoever you want to be and Kes is always a dude. She doesn’t fancy Ryan Gosling – she wants to be him – and so when she meets Jules online, she doesn’t correct her when she refers to Kes as a guy.
A relationship unfolds and when Kes’ biological gender is discovered, Jules feels betrayed and Kes is confused by the allegations made against her. Kes sits amongst the audience and speaks to us as though we are her LGBTQ support group. McAllister gives a captivating performance, showing Kes’ vulnerability, pain and panic with honesty and innocence.
Gregg’s script is clearly inspired by real-life cases, such as the Justine McNally, in which the tabloids demonised McNally as some kind of sex predator. Scorch, directed by Emma Jordan, intelligently and sensitively handles the human experience behind the sensationalist headlines. Many young people are confused and identify with elements of each gender but feel the need to squash themselves into one societal mould or the other. This is a play that considers the pressures of growing up, the way we present ourselves to the world and our responsibilities to each other. The writing is strong with lines such as: ‘I shatter into liquid sadness’ followed by a sharp intake of audience breath.
The one thing that made me feel uncomfortable was the attitude towards Jules and Jules’ mother during the trial, as though they were somehow in the wrong. The attitudes towards gender-confused young people obviously need addressing but change doesn’t come from simply passing the buck. In a situation like this, everyone gets hurt and everyone needs empathy.