FringeReview UK 2020
Lucy Morrison directs, Naomi Dawson designs, with Nao Nagai’s lighting with Sound Design by Beth Duke, Movement Director’s Delphine Gaborit and TD Moyo is Assistant Director.
It might be early in the year, but chances are this might resonate as one of the smartest plays of 2020. And one of the most beguiling. There’s flagship statements, self-conscious in their positioning: ’I genuinely think in about five to ten years there’s going to be several different possible Happys.’ Brittle, callow, sure but exuberant and open to a spool of combos, ways of loving.
Miriam Battye’s generous vision of mean young women refuses all the downbeats convention dictates. You soon cheer on the protagonists’ dizzying dismantling of patriarchies, by refusing to mirror them or treat men as more than objects. Even when that looms like a final reckoning, there’s an answer.
Battye’s often been seen outside the capital, but Scenes with girls is a fine-tuned way to hit the Court with, directed by Lucy Morrison. In the Upstairs theatre, we’re round a kind of sunken duck-egg coloured swimming-pool without water. Naomi Dawson’s design features a lightly-framed toilet, a flower and a few oranges. The all-round terracing’s neon-stripped with Nao Nagai’s low lighting with Beth Duke’s sound pumping out Charli XCX’s ‘Boys’. Bar the toilet there’s nowhere that feels quite safe, quite home. The three actors loaf and lounge at angles only intimacy makes tolerable as they cushion each other. Delphine Gaborit’s movement feels like a restless sleep pattern. Indeed it could all be a dream; it’s sort of circular, chilled, alien.
24-year-olds Lou (Rebekah Murrell) and Tosh (Tanya Reynolds) punctate banter to entertain galumphing Fran (Letty Thomas) also 24, a leavening irritant to their friendship.
Whilst visiting Fran seems set on marrying an uncomplicated physicist, Lou increasingly bores Tosh with her 23.5 lays, parodying the plays off boys’ zone banter to prove she treats them the same. Her smartphone buzzes itself tinder but nothing substitutes: Lou doesn’t want their intimacy, nor elders and worsers: ‘And you know I know ‘mindfulness’ is like next-level middleagedlady bullshittery’. a bullseye immediately followed by: ’I mean. I could hardly feel him go in… I mean it was troubling.’ This frantic assembly of sensibility wears on Tosh, who feels she loves Lou better in a way Lou won’t get. There’s a telling hug scene in the 22 where Lou goes ‘Okay’ to signal release.
Their elliptical chat compresses and communes in a way that echoes another play directed by Morrison: Vivienne Franzmann’s superb, underrated Pests, staged in this space in 2014. Lou and Tosh construct a semi-private language too, not to the skewed-lyrical magnificence of Franzman’s siblings, nor with their hopeless hollowed-out epiphanies. But it’s more wide-ranging, examining in a casual clever series of dismissals in all kinds of relating: a Brighton party on Thursdays, a world where Lou can console someone because ‘her non-exclusive cohabitation non-partner was Having a Non-Fucking fucking Verbal Conversation with someone else and that was Hers, apparently.’ Particularly with Lou, the point’s always though to show communion with her other, to test that they get it. All the vertiginous show-off chat is to net Tosh in a i-cloud of knowing.
Tosh’s more literal halts to the linguistically exuberant Lou create their own permissions, and her fancies are more baroque. Dreaming she’s decapitated Henry VIII with her thighs, being Boleyn (are we channelling Six here?) ‘after all the gunk… this bunch of flowers/Sprouting right out of his spinal cord. They smelled like citrus like Holiday.’ So much for ‘the narrative’, patriarchy.
It’s clear Tosh wants to dead-head, is intolerant of Fran, and of boys. In the wild peripeteias then volte-faces that follow the base-note is Lou’s sexual desire to be desired, and Tosh’s need for Lou. Despite gawky Fran’s catalytic actions, she’s always designed to be the precipitate played by Thomas with a baffled dignity and refusal to let hurt show, a sad self-knowledge that ‘I can’t be her’ can’t share in her friends’ quickfire world.
Murrell and Reynolds are superb with the self-communing of a couple so deeply intertwined they don’t know what trial separations – and bonkers anomalous affairs – can mean. Murrell retains an exuberance always seeking permission. Reynolds’ eldritch watchful Tosh, critical sibling if not parent, is capable of surprising you, at least twice. Battye refuses the sexually obvious, yet suggests physical intimacy and love, actually can work out its own patterns.
Yes the play’s a little short at 85 minutes to tease out some of the bass-notes, seems on occasion to skimp its own depths; and people hate 24-year-olds who dismiss their elders. Like we should care. Yet Scenes with girls owns a buzz, a life, a difference about loving that gives it a sliver of unique.