The conviction of 25-year-old Gayle Newland, last year at Chester Crown Court, may initially inspire more than a little merriment from the gallery. Later, once your giggles have subsided, you might realise how dangerous and unfair the assumptions behind this trial actually are:
Newland cried out as the judge passed sentence and had to be physically forced from the dock by two officers. She said “oh my God” as she was led from the courtroom and could then be heard screaming. Her family and friends were in tears in the public gallery, with her father later visibly angry.
Newland had pretended to be a man in order to deceive another woman into having sex with her. Incredibly, she was jailed for eight years.
Five people have been convicted of “gender fraud” in the UK since 2012. These fascinating prosecutions are adeptly explored in “Scorch,” a new solo play by Stacey Gregg, which is currently housed in the Summerhall’s potted amphitheatre, the Roundabout. Amy McAllister plays a teenaged girl whose online gaming avatar, Kes, eventually assumes a life of his own and goes out to hook up with another girl. It is not Kes, but his starting-point, who gets convicted and jailed.
McAllister is an actress of considerable charisma and the Roundabout might as well be the palm of her hand. I must be going soft – I typically dislike solo shows – but there is an undeniable thrill to this one from the very beginning. As the lights overhead pulse sinuously, McAllister dances with a curious, mesmerising mixture of Daft Punk’s robotic silkiness and Ian Curtis’ mindless thrashing. We are all gathered into her clutches and she repeatedly drops in next to, and makes eye contact with, every member of the audience.
The play is at a mild disadvantage in choosing a teenaged protagonist, since this renders the injustice far clearer cut. These early relationships are always messy and it seems naturally outrageous that Kes’s bungling had ended up in the courts. “Scorch” nonetheless functions very well as a polemic. If dishonesty in sexual relationships is criminalised, then the prosecutions will never end. The man who comes out as gay to his wife, after decades of sexual intercourse, is surely far more culpable than Kes, and yet there is an army of these people. More to the point, if you make love to somebody without having any actual idea of their gender, then you perhaps bear some responsibility for what is ultimately your own disastrous failure of intimacy. The police should put down the phone on this one; their interventions can lead, and have led, to scorched lives.