The Coolest Avatar
Kes loves Jules. But Kes has a secret. For if Kes is the really real, he’s also the unreal. Like the coolest avatar ever, Kes is a composite of all the best dude bits he wants you to see. Even his name is taken from a really cool movie, one, granted, he’s never actually seen. In Stacey Gregg’s multi-award winning “Scorch,” gender curiosity, identity, and exploration are given voice in an extraordinarily engaging tale of a teenage, first love blossoming online faced with the exhilarating, and terrifying, prospect of the fantasy becoming reality in the actually real world. A world where not disclosing your sex for those who gender identify as different to the sex they're born with, can have unforeseen, and devastating, consequences. All superbly realised in an irresistibly winning, one-woman performance.
A game of two halves, or two resoundingly successful thirds and one a little less so, “Scorch” follows the teenage Kes as he sets about discovering who he really is. Dressed in tracksuit bottoms, a grey hoody, and a fetching waistcoat, Kes looks like a million other teenagers, but feels a world apart. An avid gamer, Kes over shares his life and loves to those in his support group with a wild, infectious exuberance, feeling like an alien to himself, or perhaps the only real human in an alien universe. For Kes wants to live and love without fear, and if he happens to upset the ones he loves in the process, it’s out of naivety rather than malicious intent. But will the rest of the world judge him that way, or condemn him for crimes he never even knew existed?
Throughout, Gregg’s excellent script beautifully captures the wild, exuberance of teenage uncertainty, infused with hope, fear, ignorance, and discovery, and conveys it brilliantly through the language of movies and emoticons, celebrities and gameplay. Emma Jordan superbly directs in the round with a clear eye on pace, rhythm, and the movement of energy, with Ciaran Bagnall’s simple yet effective set cleverly capturing the neon glitz of the online universe. All of which serves to showcase the jewel that is Amy McAllister in what is a heart rending, eye popping performance. McAllister is luminous as the heart thumping, body popping Kes, a coiled spring ready to snap, squirming to get out of his body, wanting to shed it like a skin, talking endlessly and energetically as if his very life depended on it.
If the first two thirds of “Scorch” deliver an incredible portrayal of teenage angst, its shift near the end to a modern day, Oscar Wilde trial, along with an unneeded blackout with unnecessary voiceovers, is somewhat less satisfying. Which is not to say that trials alleging gender fraud have not taken place. Indeed, Gregg cites these as one of the main inspirations behind “Scorch.” It’s more that Gregg becomes a victim of her own success when the deeply lovable Kes gives way to the play’s legal interrogations, for the messenger is far more effective, and engaging, as the message. Yet as the end nears before abruptly arriving, “Scorch” steps back out of the really real into an ideological universe, where prison functions more as an idea rather than an experience. As a result Kes almost disappears beneath the legal and ideological arguments, and Jules risks becoming little more than a device rather than the young love interest we thought her to be.
If “Scorch’s” abrupt ending distracts from the rich humanity running through Gregg’s extraordinarily engaging script, it’s almost a minor inconvenience when all is said and done. By the time it arrives you’ve already been irresistibly seduced by a heart beating large with love and life. For irrespective of whether you identify as gay, straight, or with whatever you feel comfortable with, you are going to fall wildly in love with Amy McAllister’s Kes. Don’t even think of missing this genuinely sublime performance.
“Scorch” by Stacey Gregg, produced by Prime Cut Productions, runs at the Project Arts Centre until March 3rd
For more information, visit Project Arts Centre