Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh – until 13 May 2017
Choose a front row seat for maximum effect in Scorch, Stacey Gregg’s cleverly immersive one person show from Prime Cut Productions, at the Traverse until Saturday and on tour. Trav Two has been set out in the kind of inclusive circle of seating which ensures everyone has an equal say. A self-help group where young Kes, a girl who feels like a boy, is able to voice her feelings for the first time.
The set gives the show a real feeling of intimacy as performer Amy McAllister moves between the stage at the centre of the circle and the chairs amongst the audience, pulling them into the tale of this androgynously masculine young woman’s life.
There is a real energy to McAllister’s creation of Kes, a buzz which infects you as she sits down beside you and looks you straight in the eye. It’s a commanding performance, of the kind which doesn’t allow you to do anything but believe implicitly in what she says.
This is not confrontational or even confessional, but an exploring and understanding of Kes’s life; from her eight year-old self when playing with the boys was no big deal, up into her teenage years. Then, while school was odd – but strangely understanding in a way the adult world is not – an online world opened up, a place where she was allowed to choose the persona she wanted to present to the world.
Writer Gregg gives Kes the sharp barbs of youth. She has a caustic understanding of her fellow group members, referring to them in the plainest of terms, making them no different to any other prurient person, intent on finding out the intimate details of someone else’s life.
But there is nothing particularly intimate or extraordinary to learn. Just a girl who has a male avatar and who decides to meet up with her online pal, Jules, in real life. Only to realise that Jules thinks she is a boy. And then, given her androgynous looks, finding it simpler to not disabuse Jules of her belief. After all, its how Kes thinks of herself too.
We are constantly there for her. An audience no longer, but part of her support, laughing along with the quirks of her situation, on her side as she sneaks away from her family to see us.
So the bombshell when Kes’s duplicity is uncovered is doubly huge. Our discovery that this is not a simple tale of feeling differently gendered to your body, but one of how you have to appear to the world if you are so. And whether Kes’s intimacies with Jules constitute deception, rape even, as she did not out herself as biologically female beforehand.
The whole story is based on recent and highly publicised cases where the biologically female but male presenting person has been portrayed as predatory and described in the most pejorative (and wrong) terms imaginable.
The nitty-gritty here, then, is not the revelations themselves, but the way in which they are revealed, the back-story to the big breaking of social taboos.
Which is what makes Scorch both a thoroughly successful piece of theatre and an important discussion in the evolution of our understanding of gender and gender politics. In particular, it highlights the disparities of attitude towards gender assignment across society.
It is beautifully framed and delivered by a very clever team. Carl Kennedy’s sound design delivers music which grabs you right in the sternum and engages with you physically. While Ciaran Bagnall’s lighting and set allows McAllister to place her audience right at the heart of the matter.
Which is exactly where they should be.