BWW Review: SCORCH at Urbanite Theatre
Scorch is a compelling play written by Stacey Gregg. In an interview published in The Guardian (September 2016) Gregg states, "Scorch was inspired by recent UK cases. These were [court] cases taken by women who had been deceived into thinking they were having a sexual relationship with a man, but discovered that their partner was a woman or, in one case, a trans man. The accusations were of "gender fraud", which for me is a contested term. I thought that the media coverage sensationalized these cases, and this drove me to try to communicate the questions they raised in a more complex way."
Scorch is narrated by a gender-curious teenage character, self-named Kes, "like the kid on the front of that Ken Loach film", who, born female by birth, identifies with male characters in video games and movies. The audience represents the support group he attends regularly and where he feels free to express his infectious sweet spirit that draws us in. At times the actor sits with audience members while chatting and always makes eye contact with us as if speaking to his peers at their support meeting.
An avid gamer, Kes explains he met a female teen named Jules online. Jules believes Kes is a boy and the two start an online relationship. When Jules wants to take it to another level and Skype, Kes is hesitant but confident in their relationship. After Skyping they decide to consummate their relationship in person and Kes wears proper "accouterment" hoping to please Jules. When Jules discovers the truth about Kes, it opens the floodgates to a tidal wave of hurt and confusion for all concerned, especially Kes and his parents.
Beside a gripping story and well-written dialogue, the absolute star of the show is Amber McNew as Kes. She is simply brilliant in her solo delivery of this heartwarming, heart wrenching drama. She gives a voice and persona to an extraordinarily vivid and engaging tale of gender curiosity and self-identity. She brings to life Kes innocently stepping into a world where not revealing your gender identity and your birth gender are not the same, can cause damaging legal ramifications and devastating hardships. McNew captures the exuberance of youth in all of its innocent wonder, hopes and fears and reckless abandon. Through McNew, the audience gets to know and love Kes for his naivety and his freedom to love. He felt he was expressing affection, devotion and respect for Jules during their consensual rendezvous. To be facing charges such as gender fraud and being called a sexual offender is unimaginable to Kes, yet he accepts that he did these things, however, with no intention of malice. McNew packs in so much emotion, physical dexterity and effervescence into Kes, it makes one wonder how she does it night after night.
Directior Summer Wallace, gave this drama a nice pace, and allowed McNew to live in the cocoon that Kes tries with excitement and exasperation to writhe out of and morph into the person he knows he is.
If you don't know someone dealing with this contemporary identity dilemma, this play will help you understand by putting the face of humanity on a non-binary, also known as genderqueer, spectrum of gender identity. It will also make you ponder what society in general, especially our children, is going through today. Like Kes trying to find himself, it seems like we are all trying to navigate through the perplexities and complexities of our present world.
Scorch was first performed at the Outburst Queer Arts Festival; Belfast in 2015.The play won the Irish Times Theatre Award for Best New Play and the Writers Guild of Ireland ZeBBie Award for Best Theatre Script. It also won a Fringe First Award at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
Scorch sizzles at the Urbanite Theatre through August 25, 2019. For more information visit www.urbanitetheatre.com.