Scorch

Since childhood, growing up in Belfast, Kez has struggled to reconcile his sense of self with his outward appearance. But it is when he hits puberty that he is set on a path which finds him navigating a difficult course in search of personal integrity and social acceptance.

At its core this play is a coming-of-age story, but one which is born out through its main character's struggle against restrictive gender norms. In Scorch, Kez is fighting to establish a self-identity which is at odds not only with the social framework in which he is submerged, but one which is also not quite, or at least not quite yet, in perfect sync with any of the alternate labels he is invited to adopt: lesbian, trans man, boi, etc.

Rather, Kez finds freedom of expression in the digital world: from the blank slate of the Player One gaming avatar, to the pseudo-anonymity of private messaging, and in the geographically disparate (but socially intimate) sense of community that only the web can facilitate. It is there that Kez is kindled to life, and it is there that Kez is set on a path that forces him to confront a crisis of (perceived) deception and (inwardly-valid) truth.

These are the themes of Scorch, but the focus is on the personal experiences of Kez himself, who is realised as a lively, relatable and likeable character through Amy McAllister's brash performance. The drama all begins when Kez debuts his persona to society — one that has been crafted in online spaces, and refined through masculine posturing in front of the bedroom mirror — and starts a relationship with a girl he met online. But we care about this development because we care about the character, and we care about the character mostly on the strength and humour of McAllister's acting.

Further credit goes to the Emma Jordan's direction and Stacey Gregg's writing, not to mention the sound and lighting design, which all serve as formidable allies in the realisation of the central performance. It can be difficult to incorporate the cues of message notifications and app alerts into the substance of a story, and Scorch offers a solid template by which to tackle the problem. More importantly, Scorch feels inhabited rather than polemic, much more a story about a person adrift than an exhortation to amend your opinions. As such, this is theatre I would recommend without hesitation to any and all comers: entertaining, moving, thoughtful and grounded.

★★★★