Originally written for Time Out.
As cliché would have it, men are from Mars and women are from Venus. For Tom Morton-Smith, however, the alien is all relative. Tracing the cartography of modern sexual hang-ups, his new play asks where we draw the line between permissible fantasy and dangerous perversion – particularly in a hyper-sexualised culture in which, as one character puts it,’everyone has their kink’.
Through the central focus of Maggie, a teenage girl with an unhealthy fixation on tentacled Martians, Morton-Smith’s peculiar concoction throws together pornography and astronomy, HG Wells and explicit chatrooms. Just as Maggie’s best friend Kiph trusts that any fetish can be explained by Google, the point is made that almost every mutation of desire has a context in which it is normalised. Even Freud would have blushed.
But for all this airing of outlandish turn-ons, the play simultaneously recoils from the very taboos it is attempting to break. Despite an uncomfortable recurring fascination with schoolgirls, the issue of paedophilia is clumsily skated over, while the sexual acts themselves are often described with all the toe-curling awkwardness of the schoolyard.
Despite a compelling central performance from Skye Lourie as Maggie, Beckie Mills’s production struggles to tame this sprawling, confused tale. Like the aliens that have invaded Maggie’s sexual imagination, Morton-Smith is wrestling with too many limbs. As scene bleeds into scene and fantasy into fantasy, the overburdened end result is as numbing as the gratuitously sexualised media that lurks half-acknowledged in the background.