Back in 2015, Miriam Battye’s ‘Trip the Light Fantastic’ played at the Bristol Old Vic for just over a week. It was about a young man teaching an old man to ballroom dance and they performed it in the basement with a couple of plastic chairs. Despite seeing literally hundreds of plays since, I still, every so often, find myself thinking about this little treasure of a show, cuddling the memory of its understated brilliance.
Fast-forward five years and, glory be, Battye’s at the Royal Court! And, true to form, it’s with a play that’s every shade of lovely.
As with ‘Trip the Light’, there’s nothing in a basic description of ‘Scenes with Girls’ that suggests it’s going to be as gorgeous as it is. Tosh (Tanya Reynolds) lives with Lou (Rebekah Murrell) and they’re occasionally visited by Fran (Letty Thomas), their sort-of smugly engaged chummy mate. As it says on the tin, the play is made from little snapshots of their lives, each scene gradually filling in the backstory while dragging them towards an emotional earthquake.
The rest is just ‘them’. All the ridiculous, hilarious, half-spoken things that fill their heads and world. Things like Tosh’s dream of decapitating Henry VIII and planting flowers in his severed spinal cord; Polly Pockets embedded in thighs; cocks with the aroma of omelettes.
They speak with the assurance of bored, over-educated women – Tosh is writing a thesis – checking in with each other about ‘the narrative’ and what’s ‘normative’. It’s very, very funny at moments and is excellently performed. Reynolds and Murrell flop and writhe and wiggle across the plain-carpeted space (there’s a loo and a couple of plug sockets, but that’s about it), imprinting their bodies on the room.
But it’s their imprint on each other that ultimately matters. Battye rips away the padding that makes relationship stories boring, pinpointing the most painful bits with one biting word or look or phrase. And then she even makes a ‘happily ever after’ seem like way more than that.