Review – Scorch: A compelling look at teenage identity

Stacey Gregg’s fine new play is made up of equal parts courage and discomfort


The Mac, Belfast


No heads would turn in a crowd at the sight of the slight, androgynous figure of Kes. Devoid of make-up, her loathed female figure concealed beneath a hoodie and trackies, she is utterly anonymous. But in her own mind, that perception is far from the truth. From a young age, a jumbled sense of gender and sexual identity have convinced her that she is a fish out of water, an oddball, a social misfit. She refuses to acknowledge her real name, as it would testify to the fact that Kes is a girl, even though she is certain that she is not. Alone and apart, she takes refuge in an alternative virtual reality, in which her avatar is invariably the coolest dude in the game.


Persuasively directed by Emma Jordan, developed and produced by Prime Cut for the Outburst Queer Arts Festival, the personal dilemma at the core of Stacey Gregg’s compelling new play hits a unanimously sympathetic note, thanks to Amy McAllister’s engaging solo performance. Hiding her difficulties under a perky exterior, her self-deprecating humour masks a troubled teenager struggling to make sense of the incomprehensible. Performed close up and in the round, with the audience cast as members of her support group, there is both courage and discomfort in her jerky, alien-like movements which mark her out as peculiar and different.

The storyline was inspired by a recent court case, in which a woman was convicted of deceiving another woman into having sex with her by pretending to be a man. While not quite losing sight of the plight of the victim, such is the affection garnered for Kes that support is firmly directed towards her side of the story. The real life issue takes on heightened dramatic resonance, fractured and splintered by Gregg’s syncopated prose style and transposed on to a bittersweet tale of isolation and despair. The high quality blend of production elements - Nicola Curry’s choreography, Ciaran Bagnall’s clinical set and lighting, Carl Kennedy’s electronic soundscape, Conn McKermott’s video projections - skilfully moves the focus between Kes’s internet home and an unforgiving world in which a brief period of bliss turns sour, with devastating consequences.

Jane Coyle

Jane Coyle is a contributor to The Irish Times specialising in culture