Review: The Wasp @ Trafalgar Studios

This review was originally written for West End Frame

Hampstead Theatre and Trafalgar Studios seem to have a fairly close relationship at present. James Fritz’s Olivier-nominated Four Minutes Twelve Seconds has just finished its three week run in Studio Two, having premiered at Hampstead in 2014, and earlier this week it was announced that Firebird, Phil Davies debut play about child sexual exploitation, will transfer from Hampstead to the West End in February next year.
Sandwiched in between the two is Morgan Lloyd Malcolm’s The Wasp, which first saw light at Hampstead Downstairs back in January. A tense, twisted two-hander laced with hints of dark comedy, The Wasp makes for an absorbing – if a little artificial – hour and a half.
Laura Donnelly and Myanna Buring as Heather and Carla respectively, two unsatisfied 30-somethings who have drifted down very different paths since their fractious days together at school.
Heather is educated and successful with no children and a philandering husband. Carla is a chain-smoking mother of four, pregnant for a fifth time and living on the edge of poverty. The two women come from very disparate worlds, and the play is driven by the differences – and unexpectedly similarities – between them.
In the first of two acts the pair meet outside a café, apparently upon Heather’s request. There is delectable humour here as the awkward Heather attempts to make small talk with the blunt, disinterested Carla. As their conversation progresses, however, things take a decided turn for the darker and, somewhat out of the blue, Heather asks her erstwhile schoolmate to kill her cheating husband for a £30,000 fee.
Carla agrees but in the second act, set in the classy living room of Heather’s house where the two women are planning the murder, Lloyd Malcolm pulls the rug out from under the audience’s feet again and again. Knives, both literal and metaphorical, are drawn as the pair’s long, traumatic history is dragged up and dissected on stage. In a series of lengthy speeches, Lloyd Malcolm meditates upon violence and revenge, upon motherhood and upon the psychological damage of childhood trauma, but she writes with such engaging naturalism that such discourse never feels out of place.
There is tangible chemistry between Donnelly and Buring. Initial hostility convincingly gives way to a bizarre but engrossing chumminess, which disperses as quickly as it comes, only to return again when least expected. As their hackles are repeatedly raised and lowered, a powerful sense of history between the two is engendered. Both deserve acclaim, as does Lloyd Malcolm for providing such meaty female roles.
For all the captivating believability of both dialogue and character, however, The Wasp is marred by a narrative that feels slightly too constructed, slightly too contrived. It is difficult to go into detail without revealing the plot’s numerous twists and turns, but suffice to say that some fairly large leaps of faith are required in the second half. If one takes these leaps willingly, however, The Wasp remains a gripping, amusing, and thought-provoking bitesize thriller.

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