As friendships go, the one between Sarah (Ellie Piercy) and Frankie (Bianca Stephens) falls into the ‘unlikely’ category. On paper, the women tick all the opposite demographic boxes: Sarah is a white yummy mummy from Fulham used to ski trips, Frankie is a black undergrad from Birmingham hiding an unplanned pregnancy.
But it’s not just these obvious differences that underpin the strangeness of their companionship in Holly Robinson’s debut play, Soft Animals. The pair meet in the aftermath of a terrible accident that has left Sarah’s young daughter, Rosie, dead. Frankie, by tragic happenstance, was the one to discover the body. Uninvited, she starts visiting Sarah.
Both women perform their roles with neatly moderated intensity. Given the subject matter, it would be easy to descend into melodrama, but both keep the exchanges believably gentle.
Both women are punishing themselves in their own ways, Sarah by deliberately hanging out at London tourist attractions wearing the same clothes as in the now-infamous police mug shot published in the tabloids, and Frankie by having violent sex with unknown men.
At points, the plot slightly stretches credulity and passages of dialogue are a little clunky. But Robinson’s basic premise is an interesting one and she adds in some memorable details – in particular the themed plush toys Sarah brings back from every visitor attraction.
As a debut play it demonstrates a talent for capturing the contradictions and complexities of human relationships and, like the cuddly creatures of its title, it has a soft core.