Thursday, 23 January 2020

Theatre review: Scenes with Girls

With #MeToo, #TimesUp and other related hashtags popular themes in new plays over the last few years, there's no question theatre has engaged with the fact that women's position in society is long overdue a shake-up. But Miriam Battye's Scenes with Girls deals with the tricky question of just how easy it'll be to figure out what that new position is. For two best friends since high school, and now flatmates, it's all about taking the language and ideas of feminist forums and applying them directly to their own lives, but they've got very different interpretations of this: Lou (Rebekah Murrell) isn't interested in a relationship with a man but wants to have sex with a lot of them without feeling slut-shamed about it; she treats it like a man stereotypically would, proudly tallying up the number of her sexual conquests. (She has considered a relationship with a woman in theory, but is worried she'd be so prone to letting her have her way out of feminist solidarity that she'd become a doormat.)

Tosh (Tanya Reynolds) on the other hand hasn't slept with anyone for years (if ever.) Just like Lou is framing what she wanted to do anyway in terms of her politics, so Tosh - known as "Fridge," for "frigid" when they were at school - is couching her sexual repression in terms of empowerment, so she doesn't have to think too much about the feelings she's suppressing.

As the title suggests Scenes with Girls is made up of relatively short, punchy scenes between the two, as they catch up and talk, almost entirely about sex and men, while affirming their feminist credentials. Just how insular their relationship has become is apparent once their friend and former flatmate Fran (Letty Thomas) visits, and their inside jokes and finishing of each other's sentences leave her very much on the outside; when Fran reveals she's getting married, it casts her out even further in their eyes. Tosh in particular starts to show undisguised hostility, and as it becomes apparent how clingy and possessive she's become towards Lou, their friendship starts to look every bit as toxic as a romantic relationship gone wrong.

Lucy Morrison's production races through the scenes, giving the play a snappy energy that really helps bring the more comic early scenes to life, although the women's attempts to bring the academic language of their favourite forums into real life did leave me wondering what they were talking about some of the time (which admittedly, is probably the point.) Naomi Dawson's in-the-round set brings to mind a swimming pool, if swimming pools were carpeted - it serves as an apt setting for the central relationship which is at the same time comforting and combative.

This is a piece about young, heterosexual women, and as none of those things it's probably not surprising if I didn't quite connect with it (certainly the women sitting next to me laughed a lot at the snarky references to rom-coms, half of which I'd never even heard of, let alone seen.) On the other hand it also turns out that while I was watching this I was starting to come down with a cold that's left me slightly feverish and disorientated for a couple of days, so I probably wasn't quite as entirely in the room as I would have liked. I also found it a lot sadder than the blurb had led me to expect; it ended up being one of those shows whose cleverness I can appreciate, without it really clicking with me.

Scenes with Girls by Miriam Battye is booking until the 22nd of February at the Royal Court's Jerwood Theatre Upstairs.

Running time: 1 hour 25 minutes straight through.

Photo credit: Helen Murray.

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