After developing it during the Royal Court Writer’s programme, Miriam Battye is ready to conquer the stage with her play, Scenes with Girls. She talks to Halima Hassan about her ‘process’, making her first characters Northern and the power of female friendship.
I first caught wind of Scenes with Girls in November. The very brief description of it on the Royal Court website doesn’t give much away, but it was clear that at the play’s centre would be a friendship between young women. I was immediately sold. I met with the writer, Miriam Battye, at the Royal Court Theatre on the first day of previews. When I asked Battye how she defines herself professionally (a fancy way of asking her what she tells others she does), she stutters at first. “I am a playwright … or maybe I would say I’m a writer… Playwright to me is a very satisfying job title but it’s something I’ve grown into being able to say with confidence.”
Battye has been writing for a decade and it has always taken the form of scripts. “When I was about 17, I saw a play at the Royal Exchange in Manchester and [afterwards] I just went home and started writing a scene. I didn’t know how to write a play, I think I just copied what this writer had done and made the characters Northern! It’s always been plays for about 10 years.” Battye continues, “I grew up in a big, chatty family. As the youngest, I would observe as the family would talk at each other over dinner. I was fascinated by what was going on in the room and what isn’t being said. I remember trying to work out why people were acting the way they were.”
I’m often curious about how the act of writing serves different people, especially those who have been writing for themselves and professionally for some time. Is it simply a creative endeavour and means to let your imagination run free, or something different? “Often when I’m writing, as much as I might place a character very separate to myself, they are fragments of me. I have always liked writing duologues… I like the splitting of myself—Scenes with Girls is particularly interesting because I’m splitting myself three ways—and [through this] I’m exploring different parts of what I feel in myself,” Battye explains. “I hope, as I continue [to write], I won’t always fragment and will start to see outside of myself. At the moment [writing is] quite interior; it’s me trying to work something out and using characters to work it out for me,” she adds.
I ask her whether this process has enabled her to obtain resolution of some kind at the end of a writing project; be that a conclusion, understanding of how she feels about an idea or catharsis. “I’ve never finished a play and closed a book,” she tells me. “[In rehearsals for Scenes with Girls] I was watching it and thinking: ‘I could write a whole other play on top of this’. It’s been three years since I began to write [this play] and I’m growing as a human and as a woman. I understand more and I know more.”
Battye developed Scenes with Girls whilst taking part in the Royal Court Writers’ Group. The centring of a friendship between women has been declared by some as radical. “I believe a friendship is more essential than a romantic relationship,” she remarks. “The idea that friendship is something given, something simple that’s just a part of your life … is a big injustice.”
Writer, Alice Birch worked with the Writers’ Group the year Battye participated. “During the group I became obsessed with writing a really ‘good’ play. One that was undeniable. I thought, ‘If I just write something that is really good, someone will put it on and I will finally understand what it is that I’m doing’,” Battye recalls. “[Birch] challenged me to let go of the need for my work to be liked. In that desire to cater to some massive audience that doesn’t exist, the work isn’t true anymore.”
For most of my life, almost all my friends have been other women. As I write this, my confidantes are women I’ve known almost a decade and I’ve realised I depend on them to stay afloat. There’s something remarkable and scary about how intensely I feel about my friends and how strange it is that these relationships are relegated to a status below romantic partnerships.
“I wanted to write about the way women affect each other. There’s a lot of power between women … my friends are my entire world, my significant relationships,” Battye comments. “The word [platonic] comes from Plato. It’s supposed to be elevated, the best, most perfect love! It’s not affected by sex, by the complications of desire and boredom.”
Relationships between women can be complicated by outside forces which impose ideas and expectations about womanhood. “I’ve always felt that we live in a world of fuckable and unfuckable people. I feel like I’m choking on the narrative of monogamy and romantic love all the time,” Battye shares. “I was fascinated by the fact that there’s no way to exist outside of [this narrative] without looking like you’re aggressively anti-‘it’, or looking like you’re trying to make up for something.”
I tell her that sometimes I can’t distinguish between whether romance is something I want or have been taught to want. “This is [something] I’m thinking about in [Scenes with Girls],” Battye relates. “The play is about so many things … I thought a lot about how I don’t know what feelings belong to me and what have been given to me … It’s something that I turn over in my head all the time.”
While friendship involves choosing each other in much the same way as romantic relationships, the grounding and inception of that choice is a lot more interesting in friendships because of the absence of physical attraction. “The word ‘friendship’ is almost cute!” Battye exclaims. “[It] doesn’t imply the wealth of material there is in that—in that amazing thing that happens when two people just love each other and meet each other somewhere in the middle.”
Scenes With Girls is playing until 22 February. For more information and to buy tickets, visit the Royal Court Theatre website.