Everyday Maps for Everyday Use contains moments of brilliance. As part of the Papatango New Writing Festival, inevitably the writing is offered up for scrutiny. Everyday Maps for Everyday Use confuses me with its inconsistency – I couldn’t quite work out what I didn’t like about it. At times, it is brilliant – tightly-constructed, familiar and truthful. However, sometimes playwright Tom Morton-Smith makes his characters say things that are utterly unbelievable. At time, the twists and turns of this interwoven, multi-character plot are ingenious; at others, they are too neat, too useful and at the disposal of the narrative. This combines to make Maps an evening of ebullience with moments of wonder, but ultimately unsatisfying.
The action follows the stories of six characters and their sexual perversions and unhappiness. Morton-Smith crams a lot – perhaps too much – into his 80 odd minutes. The plot centres around Woking in 2012, and is essentially a collection of people trying to find love – sexual, romantic, parental – and the obstacles they meet. Maps also explores Martian travel, the shifting nature of the world and the impossibility of mapping it (hence the title) and how to come to terms with pain, insufficiency and loneliness.
This play would speak to different individuals in different ways – and this is one of its strengths. While it covers a lot (perhaps too much) Morton-Smith’s writing is never didactic or rigid, leaving the audience to pick and choose fundamental messages. For me, the most interesting idea in the play was one that is very rarely explored – the morbid fear and physical difficulty of childbirth. Corinne Radd (Cosima Shaw) describers her pregnancy: “alone with your thoughts and this creature inside of you… a monster in your gut”. Her daughter Maggie (Skye Lourie) fantasises about tentacled, heartless beasts raping her and impregnating her. John carries around an ultrasound of his unborn child, pointing out the head, the little fingers and toes in the blurry image. This motif is one of the most challenging and compelling in the play. How do we reconcile ourselves with these creatures we produce? They grow inside you – almost parasitically (Alien-like is one comparison drawn in Maps), but emerge and grow up to become people with sadness and perversions and loneliness just like you.
Aptly, given the preoccupation with parenthood, stand out performances come from mother and daughter duo Skye Lourie and Cosima Shaw. They are exceptionally well cast as relatives – aside from looking alike, they share sharply observed mannerisms and physical quirks. Both also exude mischief, sex, playfulness and desperation – they are a delight to watch. Lourie’s Maggie opens the show, dancing in her own world to David Bowie. With a few simple movements, she commands the stage. Having never seen her before, she is one to watch for the future.
Everyday Maps for Everyday Use is a knotty, challenging piece. Its inconsistency is frustrating, because it contains moments of exemplary writing – at the level of the sentence, character, plot and in terms of relationships. There are a selection of monologues in the piece that are almost uniformly outstanding: raw, nimble and devastating. They are a great example of the disjuncture of Morton-Smith’s writing: brilliant set pieces, but it’s difficult to believe these characters would speak publicly in this way. Perhaps being braver with form, and allowing these moments to take place alone onstage, would have been interesting.
While this is not a perfect show, when it hits it really hits. It is certainly worth seeing. Director Beckie Mills handles the stage deftly, and lighting designer Neill Brinkworth has created a delightfully subtle palette in a limited space. Overall, frustrating because of its moments of brilliance, but largely worth it.
Everyday Maps for Everyday Use runs at the Finborough Theatre as part of the Papatango New Writing Festival until 22 December. For more information and tickets see the Finborough Theatre website.