The deep bass of Kavinsky’s Nightcall reverberates, and Kes enlivens as if she’s just been plugged directly into the subwoofer. Her body expands and recoils as she oscillates between bold swaggering and self-conscious shuffles. Stacey Gregg’s play Scorch skilfully intertwines dance with storytelling. It sees us following a self-questioning young adult, whose confusion peaks when “two alien like forms exploded” out of her chest. They’re boobs, but to Kes they are unwelcome intruders, landing on the pre-pubescent body she took for granted. In the search for her place in the world, she finds refuge and pure happiness online, but moments of clarity shift into doubt. The “LGBTQ – ABCDEF” classifications overwhelm, impulsivity and love lead Kes down a dark road of false identities and virtual shape-shifting.
Gregg’s play peels away the sensationalism of so-called gender fraud cases to expose the emotionally raw story of a defendant caught up in a heteronormative web of law. The audience is positioned in two concentric circles of chairs, cleverly mimicking a support group. “Always a circle these groups, never a square”, Kes tells us, because “squares are for fascists”. Here Ciaran Bagnall’s lighting design sees the room clinically bright, it allows Kes to meet the eyes of audience members throughout her story. “Read somewhere it doesn’t matter how you um, do it (have sex) – as long as you are respectful, right?” This isn’t just an intimate performance, it’s confronting. The physical distance is cut and we’re brought into Kes’s inner circle. Amy McAllister as Kes doesn’t allow the audience to slip away for a second.
Kes is a typical defendant in these gender fraud cases, a loner, not in touch with the trans communities she’d find acceptance and guidance in. The play sees Kes grappling with how to be in the world, settling with an online life and then struggling to integrate it into an offline life. Bagnall’s design sees the clinical lighting switched off when Kes tells us about her online experiences, creating the perfect atmosphere for this alternate world Kes finds refuge in, with Joules, her online girlfriend. Kes shifts into a more comfortable skin, here she’s able to explore her masculinity with greater ease, away from the inhospitable real world. McAllister relays the infectious joy Kes has felt with Joules. She straps the audience to her back as she soars up to her dizzy heights. We consequently take the full impact of the fall with her when her relationship with Joules takes a turn for the worst.
Why would Kes have admitted to Joules that she was a woman, when she never felt like one? Such nuance gets lost in court cases which adjudicate this kind of identity fraud, but Scorch successfully draws it out. Stacey Gregg has created a powerful vehicle to elucidate these cases wherein vulnerable trans people wind up imprisoned, just like Gayle Newland did, for eight years. Amy McAllister drives the whole thing, eliciting so much compassion for Kes that it leaves the audience wondering if such cases might be different if trans men had adequate support in the beginning. A gripping play with an important message.