24th May 2017.
Kes falls in love with Jools and they split up. Kes experiences the joy and pain of a first love. But this is different – Kes was born a girl, and is beginning to identify as a boy. She develops a masculine persona online, meets Jools there and forms a relationship with her. All the while Jools believes Kes is a boy. The further twist in this tale is that they don’t split up when they meet in real life, that comes later…
Amy McAllister as Kes is incredible. Her performance combines an intense physicality with a restrained emotional vulnerability. In a powerful opening sequence she gets up from a chair, shaking and jerking. Shifting her shape awkwardly and violently it’s as if an alien is slowly straining within her to escape. Stacey Gregg’s script references aliens – Kes’ emerging teenage breasts are like aliens to her. We assume this is Alien, like so many of Kes’ reference points, from the world of cinema. Terminator 2, Drive, Ryan Gosling – the script litters her talk with mentions of films, actors, celebrities. This is a teenage life increasingly untethered from reality. Kes starts to find a comfortable place in the world of gaming – always adopting the personas of male avatars. Online is a safe space, rich with possibilities and McAllister shows Kes carrying that over into real life. She stretches and strains in to a masculine stance and cocky walk – checking out every detail in a mirror. The online courtship with Jools is naive and conducted with help from emoticons and then Skype. When they agree to meet offline we fear the worst but Jools seems oblivious to Kes’ breasts hidden under her baggy clothing.
Although a relationship develops, the script cleverly keeps reminding us that these are young people not adults. To celebrate a successful first date, Kes excitedly eats two Toffee Crisps. Kes struggles to express herself in the real world. Sat in a circle, the audience becomes a LGBTQ support group where Kes starts to find the words to describe her gender curiosity.
The staging is simple but effective, McAllister is alone in the centre of two circles of chairs. She joins the audience at times to share stories and seek reassurance. There is an awkwardness to Kes, struggling to find the right words and confessing to poor academic abilities. But increasingly she looks us in the eye and grows in confidence while her situation becomes increasingly desperate and an injustice takes place.
Based on a true story, Scorch’s main weakness is that we don’t hear much of Jool’s perspective. Did she really believe Kes was a man when they slept together? But then how could Kes believe it is right to base a relationship on a deception? There is no doubting this is a messy situation, and Scorch poses more questions than it has answers.
Despite that, the script carefully captures the perils of exploring adolescent feelings in a virtual world and the vulnerability experienced by the gender curious. It’s a production with a quiet intensity and a searing performance at its core.