Sitting down to Scenes with girls with a fellow reviewer of the same early-twenties-age, we’re both initially distracted by how right it gets certain things. The cover of Miriam Battye’s script is an impeccable millennial pink, a colour seemingly matched by the bathroom sink and toilet onstage. The play’s title is in clean, curvy neon lettering above that. We hear ‘Doo Wop (That Thing)’ and ‘Overload’. It feels like we’ve walked into Glossier’s pop-up shop.
We wonder if this play is meant to be for us, but maybe what we mean is it feels like this design (by Naomi Dawson) has people – especially women – our age in its sights, which turns out to be on the money.
Tosh and Lou are roommates who’ve grown up and around and into each other. They’re 24, and they’re dead set on not falling victim to – well, everything, really, but mainly boys. Fuck boys but don’t like them, don’t feel anything for them, because that’s how you get caught, is what they counsel each other.
Accordingly, the first scenes between them we see are punctuated by snippets of Charli XCX’s ‘Boys’. But it’s only Lou who does any of the fucking. It gradually becomes clear that Tosh is after something else entirely, something more from Lou. It’s not as obvious as a deeper friendship, or romance: it’s everything.
Lucy Morrison’s production feels elastic, floppy one second, taut and straining the next: we flick through moments in Tosh and Lou’s life together almost in complete harmony, then worrying at the other’s heels. They lounge at laptop screens. They gas each other up. While Tosh (Tanya Reynolds) remembers dreams in which she joyously decapitates historical men, Lou (Rebekah Murrell) recounts existential uncertainty brought on by the mid-act question “Whose pussy is this?” What’s the right answer to that?
Puncturing their fuzzy, overgrown wilderness is another sort-of friend, Fran (Letty Thomas), who’s a wonderfully funny and lovable character, despite Lou and Tosh’s dismissive assessment of her. She’s like a young female Mr Collins from Pride and Prejudice, which means she’s a bit tragic, lackadaisical, earnest rather than ironic. It’s important that the cardigan she wears is an uncool one, that she’s the first character to wear shoes in this easy space.
Battye’s careful to show Tosh and Lou’s treatment of Fran – tolerating her, pitying her for being “addicted to the narrative”, caught by it already – for the cruelty it is. What does it matter if she doesn’t dress well in the eyes of these two girls? Why is Tosh declaring something “hilarious” in a perfect deadpan any different from Fran’s automatic “That’s so funny,” which they view as some heinous mistake? “I can hear,” she points out directly, at one point. “I’m not stupid, by the way.”
Scenes with girls reminds me of being a girl, which I’m not anymore, with everything that entails. Now I’m more of a boy than I used to think I was, I look at Tosh and Lou’s loose lying about on top of each other and see it as something I do less now, partly because the relationships I used to do that in have fallen away. Did you have relationships like that? Awful and incredible? More important than anything else that could possibly exist?
The big betrayal comes quickly, after a series of mutual chokings.
Does love with boys always make you banal, or were you banal to begin with?
Tosh and Lou are impatient, self-obsessed, and well-versed, in sex and gendered bullshit and references. The play’s read Normal People. It feels as if Franny and Zooey is in the characters’ DNA, far back somewhere. I’m doing the references too, so maybe the play is for me after all; besides young people, Scenes with girls speaks easily to a certain kind of self-conscious, middle-class, urbane literariness. There’s also the uncomfortable look of a white woman telling a black woman that she clearly wants to be a whore in a play otherwise “classless” and “raceless”, which along with The Tyler Sisters at the Hampstead makes me think about the way we cast things in our efforts to be colour-blind.
There’s a lot I like, and I want to unravel Tosh and Lou’s ambiguity further, but Scenes with girls finishes swift and vague. Their own language, like an ivy, starts eating up their sentences to each other. I can’t work out if Battye is realist about the way woman-woman bonds conflict with the ongoing problem of boys, or if this is heteropessimism at its most bleak. Are love and suffocation the same thing, or do they just look like it when you’re sad, lonely, desperate? Are we eliding the difference between being those things, and being a girl? We seem to end up caught either way.
Scenes with girls is on at the Royal Court till 22nd February. More info here.