Writer: Morgan Lloyd Malcolm
Director: Wendy Bollard
Morgan Lloyd Malcolm’s dark comedy thriller The Wasp had sell-out runs at both Hampstead Theatre and Trafalgar Studios back in 2015. Director Wendy Bollard’s revival, playing at the Hen and Chickens Theatre as part of the Camden Fringe, occasionally feels a little underpowered. But the play’s tightly constructed narrative, unexpected twists and turns, and satisfyingly bleak resolution still make for an enjoyable 60-minutes.
Carla (Jennifer Thornton) is a heavily and unhappily pregnant mother of four. Still on the right side of 40, she lacks much fulfilment from part-time jobs as a sex worker and supermarket shelf-stocker, or from a “lazy fat fuck” of a husband who spend most of the time drunk. No wonder the unfortunate woman’s only obvious pleasure comes from chain-smoking and phone surfing.
Enter Carla’s prosperous former schoolmate Heather (Tegan Verheul), whose comfortable life with insect-collecting husband Simon has all the surface hallmarks of a successful marriage. Pride of place among Simon’s wall hangings is a scary hawk wasp, whose method of reproducing involves laying eggs that literally eat their tarantula spider hosts alive.
All is not as it seems with Heather. She yearns for a child that philandering husband Simon cannot give her and carries a burning grudge against her erstwhile classmate. So, when Heather engineers a coffee-shop meeting between the two woman, the first in 20 years, and arrives for the reunion with a bag stuffed full of cash, it is clear that a roller-coaster ride is in prospect.
The question hanging over the play as it weaves and wends its way to a genuinely surprising (if a tad melodramatic) denouement is which of the two women is the metaphorical wasp, ready to feast on its prey. “We are so different you and I,” says a testy Heather to an unwary Carla. Actually, there is a kind of symmetry between the two women. Each is determined to get something from the other, and, like the tarantula and its prey, only one of them is going to get out in one piece.
It is best not to interrogate Lloyd Malcolm’s plot too closely as it contains holes the size of entire city blocks, but Thornton and Verheul have so much camp fun with their characters that it is easy to forgive some very unlikely narrative coincidences.
The staging, essentially just two chairs and a table, sometimes feels a little too cut down, and Bollard’s direction occasionally lacks a little pace. Nevertheless, the production packs in enough quirks, humour, and surprises to make for an entertaining and likeable hour.
Runs until 6 August 2022
The Camden Fringe runs from 1-28 August 2022