Play showing a young girl’s struggle with gender identity captures excitement of first love

Amy McAllister won best actor award at Edinburgh for Scorch.

A one-woman show about a young girl’s struggle with gender identity also captures the exhilaration and excitement of first love, writes Colette Sheridan

A STORY about a gender-confused teenager will be played in the round at the Everyman Theatre. Scorch, which won a Fringe First at the Edinburgh Festival this year, is written by Stacey Gregg and directed by Emma Jordan of Belfast-based Prime Cut Productions.

This one-woman show is performed by Amy McAllister, who won best actor at Edinburgh for her portrayal of 17-year old Kes.

The premise of the play is that the character attends a self-help group.

“That dictates it being in the round,” says Jordan.

“The audience becomes part of the self-help group with Kes coming in and out of the circle. She talks to the audience (of no more than 70) as if it’s part of her group. But there’s no participatory element to the show. It’s not confrontational. Given how provocative the issues are, it’s actually a very gentle piece.”

The play is aimed at a general audience.

“I think it’s quite a zeitgeist play. There’s more understanding now of gender issues. In the past, that was always linked to sexuality. But very often, that’s not the prevailing issue but rather, the question of being wrongly assigned a gender, biologically. It has hit a nerve. As the human race evolves, our understanding around this issue also evolves.

“Think of the history of the past 100 years in Ireland and the struggle for acceptance of homosexuality. Questions of gender are a step ahead of that. Maybe society has been a bit slow in catching up with this issue.”

Jordan says that “a lot of plays that are about issues can be very didactic, where people feel they’re being lectured to or being told the right way to think about something. This play isn’t like that. Kes is a really lovely character. Audiences inhabit her world. I don’t think people come away feeling bombarded.”

From an early age, Kes thought of herself as a boy.

“As the story is performed, she realises as her body begins to develop that she’s not a boy. And then there’s the internet, which can be really liberating and also very dangerous. Kes presents herself as a boy online and begins a relationship with a girl who thinks Kes is a boy.”

The play is based loosely on court cases that happened in the UK, including the case of Justine McNally in Scotland, who was convicted of ‘gender fraud’ after starting a sexual relationship with a teenage girl who believed her to be a boy.

“You look at a society that sentences a 17-year-old person to prison and you kind of wonder if there is something wrong here in terms of our understanding and perception of a young person with a gender identity experience.”

The play is also about first love.

“It’s very interesting that whenever I’m sitting in an audience and watching everybody’s faces, they always smile. Most of us have had that experience of first love, bringing us back to our teenage years. Whether you’re 70 or 14 years of age, it brings people back.”

In the play, “there’s a lot of talk about how Kes tries to inhabit the body in terms of how she moves and dresses. But in reality, she has long hair. She looks like a girl but can present herself as a boy in a limited way.

“When we meet Kes, she’s at a stage in her life where she’s confused because she doesn’t quite know what she is. Is she a lesbian? Is she a boy? Should she transition — and what does transitioning mean? The play poses a series of questions but it isn’t didactic or strident.”

  • Scorch is at the Everyman in Cork from September 12-17 as part of a nationwide tour


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