The Wasp Jermyn Street Theatre Until 12th August
Review by H.Hemming
A wasp is genuinely viewed as a pest, a nasty, vicious insect who uses violence as a form of protection and lays eggs inside other insects. This play, by Morgan Lloyd Malcolm, draws parallels between these unpleasant character traits of a wasp, and the unpleasant character traits that humans are capable of. The Wasp in its relatively short lifespan has already become known as a compelling piece of writing. This production, directed by Anna Simpson, highlights the brilliant writing once again.
Beautifully naturalistic in dialogue, the story starts off with a familiar scene. Two people with a lot of history meeting up after many years apart. The differences in how their lives have turned out are obvious from the start. Carla is heavily pregnant, struggling with money and her four other children. Heather has a beautiful home, a career, and a steady marriage. We soon learn that the history between these two is not a pleasant one, and that it was, and is, more than just a bit of name calling in the playground.
Heather, has a proposition for Carla, but it is not the one, or the second one, that we expect. This initial conversation escalates quickly, and sets up the rest of the play with an air of ‘anything is possible.’ There are many unexpected twists, and the clever writing takes the audience down many dead ends before suddenly announcing a whole new idea.
Heather and Carla are portrayed by Selina Giles and Lisa Gorgin respectively, and both are ideally suited to their parts. Giles, who is also the founder of Two Shillings and Six Pence Productions, has a loveable awkwardness to her at first, but as the play progresses her whole demeanour changes and we discover all that she is hiding. Giles borders between the insanely hysterical and the calm, mature housewife, flicking between the two with ease and an entirely justified thought process. She allows us to see and understand everything she is saying and doing.
Carla on the other hand, a tired woman ‘living a hand to mouth existence,’ has a less dramatic character journey. Her stereotypical picture makes it easy for us to understand her actions, both in the past and the present. However Gorgin plays the part in such a way that we don’t see the stereotype, we just see Carla. It is a very deep and clever portrayal when an actor disappears and only the character is seen. There are moments of tenderness, regret, remorse, humour. A full circle of emotions displayed openly, as Carla herself is an open book.
The two actors bounce off each other well, with a naturalism that makes the audience forget it is a play. They have obviously worked hard with director Simpson on the back stories and the toll of past events, and this comes out in its entirety. These characters really have existed for years.
Jermyn Street theatre is ideally suited to the play, with a very neat set design by Mike Leopold. It is nice to have the naturalism of the play continue into the surroundings. Bizarrely however, there is a scene change halfway through the first act which has the air of an interpretational dance to it. It was clear that the effect was supposed to be an invisible scene change, but in the middle of such beautiful naturalism it was rather jarring; perhaps an actual open scene change would have been better. The audience understands that the scene is moving location, we would accept the break in the action more than the awkward changing in character.
Overall, a thrilling, real edge of the seat drama, but with that openness and realism that really leaves the audience in disbelief. Although it perhaps could be condensed as at times it felt quite long, there is no obvious cutting point. It is a real riveting journey from start to finish, and with many possible outcomes. One half expects the ending to change every night.