Curious incidents

| by Eleanor Turney

Emma Jordan of Prime Cut Productions, talks about gender, teenagers and a new generation of Northern Irish writers with Eleanor Turney

Scorch. Photograph: Ciaran Bagnall

Primarily, Scorch came from wanting to work with Stacey Gregg. She's a very fresh voice and from a generation of Northern Irish writers whose narrative isn't informed by conflict. She deals a lot with sexuality and gender, issues that are really relevant to our peace generation.

I was really excited by the script because it invited us to find a physical language for it. I love working with choreographers and we don't always get the opportunity with new writing to investigate a physical language for a piece. It's also very well written and tells a unique story.

We aren't a queer theatre company, so we were navigating language and issues that weren't part of our daily subject matter. The research we undertook was fascinating. We met lots of young people, from organisations in Belfast who work with young LBGTQ people, who we'd never engaged with before.

They were crucial to the journey that Amy McAllister, the actress playing Kes, went on to get her head around the issues. We probably started from a cis perspective of thinking that being gender-curious is about sexuality, but actually it's about gender.

"It has the potential to speak to many people"

This affected how we presented the play, and I think that helped broaden the audience base. Gregg wanted the play to sit in the context of conversation around trans issues, but she also wanted to reach a bigger audience in terms of education and understanding.

A writer who's really listening to society manages to articulate a general zeitgeist in their work. When we started rehearsing Scorch, every magazine and every newspaper was talking about trans issues. The play is UK specific in terms of the story it tells, but these issues are being grappled with around the world. It's fascinating how, in a society, understanding grows exponentially.

We've played the show in Adelaide, Sweden and rural Ireland, and the audiences' reactions have always played the same: if people have gone in with an understanding of the show, they appreciate the theatrical experience. And if they haven't been versed in gender, trans issues, and gender curiosity, they come out understanding a little bit more. I think it has the potential to speak to many people.

"It's very important to be telling this story now"

You might assume that the biggest challenges around trans issues might be in developing countries, but what's at the foreground at the moment, in political terms, is what is happening in America. I'm interested in seeing how Scorch would play there, given all the furore about Trump's political decisions around gender. This play might be landing at an important time in the conversation.

I'm a mother to three daughters, so my first instinct reading the play was about how difficult it is to be a teenager at the moment, regardless of gender or sexuality. I'm watching my girls trying to navigate the world. Compound that with issues around gender or sexuality and it's a hazardous era for young people. It's part of a bigger picture.

It's very important to be telling this story now. It educates people, in quite a gentle way, about the issues around gender a young person might be grappling with. This isn't a trans story, per se, although it is about a gender-curious teenager. That well of confusion and questioning that all teenagers go through is there, but through this lens.

 

Emma Jordan, Artistic Director of Prime Cut Productions, was talking to Eleanor Turneya freelance journalist, editor and arts consultant, and Co-Director of Incoming Festival.

Scorch is at Summer Hall, Roundabout from 2127 August.

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