Meet the writer: Miriam BattyePublished on Wed 8 Jan 2020
Miriam Battye makes her Royal Court debut this month with Scenes with girls, a play she developed whilst taking part in a Royal Court Writers’ Group.
We caught up with Miriam ahead of the Scenes with girls world premiere to discuss taking the play from script to the rehearsal room, being exasperated by simplicity, and her advice for aspiring playwrights.
What has it been like working with the Royal Court from the writers’ group to now?
I think in the seven years since I did my first group I have become a writer, not just someone doing an impression of a writer. I have gone from desperately wanting to write Well Good plays that will make me popular and look clever to actually, just, fucking, writing something I think might be true. Looking back at it, I wouldn’t change it or speed it up. I have nothing but gratitude that I have been listened to and accommodated, not everyone is given that. I have never been very good at articulating myself in person. But it’s a gift to be given the space to communicate in a way that feels most natural to you, and for me that is writing plays.
Who or what has had the biggest influence on your writing?
Many things. Telly has had a huge impact on me, I properly love telly. Also my religious upbringing. I grew up seeing stories being used to explain huge, impossible things. I also grew up with a lot of questions.
Also the Royal Exchange theatre in Manchester had this scheme which granted me free tickets to everything when I was 16 and couldn’t pay. I sat in that theatre on my own and saw every play for two years.
I would not be a writer if I didn’t find in that theatre a space to see beyond my teenage smallness, my sadness, my inarticulate dissatisfaction.
What is Scenes with girls about?
It’s difficult to summarise, which is perhaps why I had to write a play! It isn’t about one thing at all.
I think it’s about the impossible world young women live in: they are told their purpose is to find someone to Love them, and then are made to feel pathetic for wanting to find someone to Love them. I have no idea where the desire to be Loved begins or ends. I don’t know what belongs to me and what is just something I have been told.
It’s about the way women talk to and talk about each other. So I think it’s about language. And how language fails us. It’s about how language collects on us and inhibits our ability to be free. To choose. To know what we want.
It’s about three 24 year old women called Lou, Tosh and Fran. It’s scenes in which the choices they are making regarding sex and love are impacting and impeding on each other, as I believe our friends’ choices really do.
It’s about young women’s platonic devotion to each other, and power over each other. Women can make each other feel beautiful, powerful, seen and heard. Women can make each other feel unbeautiful, stupid, whorish, or frigid. I think female friendships are sometimes presented as though they are simple. Almost a given. Just part of the fabric of girlhood that you will have several friends who you can laugh and bitch with, who will then cease to exist when you find a Boyfriend.
But I think these are the relationships that build us, that build our personalities and worldview. Friendships are seismic, so I just want to write and write and write about them until I rip through the page.
What inspired you to write this play?
I am really really exasperated by simplicity. In theatre, in writing, in the media, in language. The act of summarising whole universes into basic ideas. I can’t bear it. So I am actively trying to complicate here. Complicate the conversation I have seen around how young women “should be”, or “what women really want”, whatever the fuck that means. I have no solution, I just want to present something I believe to be true about the world we live in, the world we’ve been given.
I care about writing characters with ambiguity and complexity. I feel that young female characters are not always afforded the ambiguity that truly allows the viewer to see them as fully human. They are bad or good, spiteful or nice, whorish or chaste, sad or happy, functional or dysfunctional. Types. Versions of generic femaleness. This is a huge injustice. I think it bleeds into the way they are perceived in real life too. I also think young men are not always afforded this ambiguity too, particularly in sex.
The universe of sex, and the language around sex, is the space I chose to explore some of this injustice, because it’s where ambiguity and complexity is so often ignored. We are asked, “What do you want?”. How can we possibly know what we want? How can we trust it? We live in the narratives we consume around us. It is so hard to live outside the narrative of monogamy, for example, without looking like you are trying to aggressively object to it. Without looking like you’re actually just sad because you’ve not been invited to be a part of it.
How are you feeling about going from script to the rehearsal room?
Moving this play from a page to three dimensions has really challenged me. The play has existed in my body for so many years, but the act of pulling the contents of my head out and putting them into a room has felt like I’m discovering the play for the first time.
The actors, the director and the whole team are an incredible group of humans. I am consistently overwhelmed by their brains and talents and most of all their kindness. It’s felt particularly meaningful for me, collaborating with Lucy Morrison (the director) as she has been with this play, and with every redraft, since it’s beginning a few years ago. We have really built it together and so finally getting to be in a room with her, discovering it again, has been extraordinary.
What advice would you give emerging writers?
When you have finished your play, your glorious thing, full of possibility, have a bath and something carby and then start a new one. It will be hard to do, but it will be better than the one you’ve just written. Some people have asked me if this is my first play, but I’m like lol no it’s my 15th. The best thing you can do to be a writer is write, and learn how to keep writing.
Also, try and get involved in community and youth theatre. I am properly proud of the many plays I have written for and with non-professional actors and young people. It will be the hardest you ever work. And it will truly force you outside of yourself. I hope to continue to do this kind of work as I hope to continue to do this kind of work as long as I write.