Review: Scorch (Bustle and Beast Theatre Co. and Blarney Productions)

Photo of Julie NIUBOI Ferguson in ScorchScorch dazzles on the Toronto stage with questions about gender and justice

Sometimes a show is just great: the set, the direction, the actor, are amazing. That’s exactly what Bustle & Beast Theatre Company with Blarney Production’s Scorch playing at the Theatre Pass Muraille Backspace is: great. As a result, please allow me to count the ways Scorch is a must-see show for 2018.

One: Julie ‘NIUBOI’ Ferguson, playing Kes, is absolute perfection.

They are funny, touching, passionate, and an amazing dancer. When we left the theatre, my guest and I were praising Ferguson’s feat. This is a one-person show tackling the experience of Kes, who is accused of sexual assault when they have sex with their girlfriend without disclosing their sex. 

You might the heavy (and sadly, timely) topic leaves little room for light-heartedness, or would focus solely on anger and tragedy, but Ferguson takes you on a journey that defies its topic. With playwright Stacey Gregg’s words tumbling from their mouth in either a youthful ecstasy or heartfelt frustration, Ferguson is utterly captivating.

Kes is sweet and dorky, has a sense of humour mired in pop culture references (breasts as aliens, anyone?) but is never a caricature. While the play has a message, the story is alive through Ferguson’s physicality and their presence, creating a genuine, charismatic connection with the audience.

Two: the story is relevant and timely and doesn’t spoon feed its audience.

If you expect a story that ends with the issue wrapped in a tight little bow, well, then you should definitely see this play. Scorch is based on a true story and doesn’t pull any punches (as it shouldn’t). 

While Ferguson brings the play to life, it’s definitely a script that works as a discussion. The audience listens to tales of romance inspired by romantic comedies, emphasizing how strange it is that Kes faces outlandish consequences—equivalent to murder, they point out—in the face of not disclosing their biological sex.

Three: Director Brenley Charkow has an amazing creative team behind the scenes.

I don’t think I’ve seen a set that so well communicates isolation and community. Her direction encourages Ferguson to let loose, being swept away into choreographed moments of dance (by Ainsley Hillyard), at times of emotional enthusiasm or distress. Meanwhile, production designer Alison Yanota creates a space defined by light and ghostly figures that rest casually in witness to Kes’s story—faceless but warmly lit. 

Ferguson is free to move about the stage, sometimes leaving it, or rearranging chairs to reenact conversations. It’s simple but gives a sense that as separate as Kes might be at times, there is always someone present with them; they are never entirely alone.

And that leads me to another factor about Scorch, right now. 

Four: It is relevant, right now.

The case it is based on happened in the UK in 2013, but seeing the story on a Canadian stage, especially in the wake of recent news, is important. As a play, Scorch is perfect. 

It highlights rigid questions of gender and sex, and calls attention to how society criminalizes people for not conforming. And it does so in a way that challenges the audience to understand gender identities are not simple binaries; that labels might ultimately be more damaging.

I really can’t say how good Scorch is as a show. Just go see it.

Details

  • Scorch plays until Dec. 2nd 2018 at the Theatre Pass Muraille Backspace (16 Ryerson Ave.)
  • Shows run Tuesday to Saturday at 7:30pm with matinees Saturday and Sunday at 2:00pm
  • Tickets are $25.00 and $20.00 for students, seniors, and arts workers
  • Tickets can be purchased at the Theatre Passe Muraille box office, by phone at 416-504-7529, or online here
  • PWYC matinees are Sunday November 18th and 25th at 2:00pm
  • Content and trigger warnings for the show can be found here

Photo of Julie (NIUBOI) Ferguson by Dahlia Katz

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