Review: SCORCH

by Lynn on November 30, 2018

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Stacey Gregg

Directed by Brenley Charkow.

Production designed by Alison Yanota

Sound by Leif Ingebrigtsen

Choreography by Ainsley Hillyard

Cast: Julie ‘NIUBOI’ Ferguson

 Gently incendiary.

 The Story. KES says: “First I was a boy.  Then I was eleven. Then I grew boobs.”

That last is a shock and disconcerting to Kes. When Kes is older, about 17, Kes finds Jules on the internet. They hit it off on line. Jules thinks Kes is a man or at least a teenaged boy.  Kes does not tell her otherwise.  Jules wants to Skype and of course Kes hesitates. But they Skype and that goes well. Then Jules wants to meet and that goes well.

And finally they ‘consummate” the relationship with Kes being discrete and in using a strap-on sex toy, soft, supple, and natural looking.

Then one day Kes comes home and finds her parents with a paper between them. The paper is from the police charging Kes with deception in not revealing Kes’ gender and for sexual assault when Kes used the sexual device for what was consensual sex.

There is a court date and through it all we see Kes’ confusion and awkwardness to what is happening.  Never do we hear how Kes identifies, hence my hesitation to use, she/her, he/him or they/them.

The real case defines Justine McNally as non-binary. I’ll use the pronouns “they/them” from now on.

When Kes got the paper that charged her they were so shocked and confused. They didn’t think they did anything wrong and was stunned to see they were charge with sexual assault and deception. Their parents were aghast, condemning Kes as a freak.

The Production: The production is terrific. And Stacey Gregg’s play is too.   It’s by a company named Bustle and Beast that’s not from around here.

The set by Alison Yanota is stark and beautiful. A sheet of foil coloured material hangs down at the back. Three Plexiglas figures sit in chairs in various poses: one with legs crossed, two others with legs sprawled. They have a light where the heart should be.

They are haunting.  They look unfriendly and why not—everybody in the play is unfriendly to Kes. Her friends, if they ever had any have disappeared.  Their parents think Kes is a freak. Kes has lost Jules.

Julie “NIUBOI” Ferguson plays Kes as both naively innocent and sweet.  Ferguson identifies as they/them.  Ferguson is slim, youthful, wears a hoodie, pants, trainers and a toque that covers their head except for the ears.  Ferguson so easily conveys Kes’ exuberance, curiosity and eagerness to start her life.

At first Kes/Ferguson sits in the audience (in a reserved seat on the aisle) in front of me. They are quiet and still until the music starts and then they quietly move to the music. At a certain point they rise and walk onto the stage to start the show.

At times Julie ‘NIUBOI’ Ferguson comes into the audience and looks you hard straight in the eye. You don’t want to look away but give back that concentration in equal measure, to engage with the performance.

Brenley Charkow directs this with sensitivity.  Because of Charkow’s detailed direction I believe the world Kes is in—brutal, cold, lacking in understanding and sensitivity.

It’s a delicate but fierce performance.  And heartbreaking.

Comment. Scorch by Stacey Gregg is based on a true case from Britain in 2013, about Justine McNally, a non-binary teen who was charged with sexual assault for not disclosing their gender to their partner. They were just seventeen and they did jail time. Julie ‘NIUBOI’s’ performance is so compelling, without rage or rancor but full of confusion at how this can happen, that we are drawn right into the story and that life.

This is a small company from Western Canada and they have brought us a powerful play with an equally powerful production and they are worth our time and attention.

Presented by Bustle and Beast in Association with Blarney Productions.

Scorch plays at Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace until Dec. 2.


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