Entertainment Theatre & Arts

Sunday 22 July 2018

Subtlety will beat a sledgehammer

  • Scorch, Project Arts Centre, Dublin
  • We Don’t Know What’s Buried Here, Civic Theatre, Tallaght, and touring
Grace Dyas and Doireann Coady in 'We Don't Know What's Buried Here'
Grace Dyas and Doireann Coady in 'We Don't Know What's Buried Here'

Emer O'Kelly assesses two dramatic pleas for pity.

Kes is a predatory lesbian. She's told that when she is in front of a judge on sexual charges at the age of 17. Online sexuality? Lies? Entrapment? We are very familiar with the narrative, and becoming more so every day as horror stories emerge concerning children being trapped into exploitative, damaging "friendships", many resulting in sexualisation too soon at best, and destructive rape scenarios at worst. We have no sympathy.

But. There are shades of grey, as Stacey Gregg's play Scorch sets out to make us understand. Winner of a Fringe First award at Edinburgh as well as numerous other gongs, it has been revived by Prime Cut at Project in Dublin.

Little Kes (except that wasn't her name then) was told at the age of six that she was going to be a heartbreaker. At 10 she envied boys. At 11, she wanted to be a boy. And later on, she thought (sort of) that she was a boy… called Kes. She could play that out online, especially with her special friend Jools, who assumed Kes was a boy. And they fell in on-line love, before meeting up. Sex happened (Kes kept her hair covered, and used a penis bought online.)

Jools's mother found out and reported the matter to the police. Kes got three and a half years… for sexual fraud, rape and entrapment. Enraged, Kes points out that a murderer got the same sentence a few weeks earlier. Hers was reduced on appeal, however, and she returned home, her name entered on the sex offenders' register. In a letter, Jools says she's confused and hurt, and never wants to see her again. She also now thinks she's bi-sexual; she "blames" Kes. And Kes? She doesn't know what she is, because she loved Jools like a boy, so she's not a lesbian, predatory or otherwise. Is she? But trans women confuse people: transvestites are funny, she muses; so are transsexual men. But trans women aren't.

Resolution? There isn't one. But Gregg's writing has allowed us to see into what some people would call the soul of a confused, unhappy youngster who only wants to be happy, and to love. Most of all, she wants to know who she is, and nobody seems to want to help her.

Amy McAllister is little short of enchanting as Kes, directed by Emma Jordan, with the play set in the round and lit by Ciaran Bagnall. The dance segments are choreographed by Nicola Curry.

*******

The rage is almost palpable in We Don't Know What's Buried Here. It's more an infuriated indictment of Irish society than a play. At times, indeed, it descends into a rant. But the fact that author Grace Dyas's disapproval encompasses every element in society which isn't hard left and vocally rebellious does reduce the strength of her argument, even if wearing one's heart on one's sleeve has its admirable aspects.

The premise is of two women frantically digging on the site of the Magdalene Home in Sean McDermott Street. Both had been incarcerated there, condemned as sluts, to work 12 hours a day, their hair sheared off, their names buried in favour of numbers.

One wants to find the corpse of her baby who died at birth in the home; the other, spurred on by the reverberations of horror brought alive again by the Tuam saga of 700 little corpses disposed of in a septic tank, wants just to find the truth.

Both fear it will never, literally, see the light of day because despite promises of a memorial, the Sean McDermott Street site is to become a Japanese-owned luxury hotel.

Enter their indictment of Leo Varadkar: his speech about getting up early is excoriated as the women work early and late on their self-imposed task. It's a worthwhile analogy; insensitivity is a legitimate target when people are in pain.

But Dyas lumps everything into a cauldron of spitting hatred, putting even gangland murders at the door of every politician from Joan Burton to the aforesaid Leo Varadkar. Yes, our society is fractured, but this is so extreme in its arguments that one finds oneself (maybe cynically) recalling the lack of perfection in socialist societies now and in the past.

In dramatic terms, Dyas and Doireann Coady play with fervour under Barry John O'Connor's direction. But again, the final 15 minutes of tendentious moral self-congratulation could well be done without.

Brave? Yes. Worthwhile? Yes. Logical and rational? No.

It's a co-production between the Civic Theatre and THEATREclub, and will also play at Axis Ballymun, the Mermaid Arts Centre in Bray, and the O'Reilly Theatre in Dublin.

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