Writer: Morgan Lloyd Malcolm
Director: Anna Simpson
Reviewer: Maryam Philpott
School days were the best days of your life so they say, but few of us remember it like that. While they may provide an educational foundation for who you become, that potent mix of puberty, adolescent hormones and opportunity for bullying can also have lasting effects on both the victim and the perpetrator. Now revived at the Jermyn Street Theatre, Morgan Lloyd Malcolm’s 2015 play The Wasp examines the impact of bullying and the desire for revenge.
Out of the blue, Heather invites old school friend Carla for coffee, and despite some early awkwardness, the memories come flooding back.
In the intervening years, these women have made very different choices leading to utterly different lives, but Heather has a proposition for Carla that draws them back into the past. Is it fate bringing them together and are the two women exactly what they seem?
Malcolm’s full-length play is a two-handed, which gives its actors a pair of strong and well-drawn female leads to examine. Part black comedy, part thriller, elements of the story are reminiscent of Strangers on a Train while a parallel focus on the effects of infertility explores similar ground to Yerma. And while Anna Simpson’s production balances the switch from introspection to melodrama quite well, the overall tone of the show is less certain.
At times, it wants to be an ice cool psycho-drama that revels in its surprising twists and tries to up the suspense by keeping the audience guessing, while at others it slips into a more traditionally cosy story as, somewhat cliched, middle and working-class people try to unravel their past over tea. The more intense moments are handled well, with the various revelations reasonably well-hidden, but it’s not exactly a comedy and not consistently dark enough to retain a sense of tension throughout.
Selina Giles is a fascinating Heather who, on the surface, seems vulnerable and damaged by her experiences at school and recent marital issues, but Giles slowly builds in a more sinister dimension that starts off as merely a bit pushy but becomes manipulative and bitter. She convincingly switches from tears to torrents of abuse, with a noticeable accent slip when she’s angry implying the character’s more humble roots. Giles maintains a venomous serenity throughout which leaves the audience eager to discover her plans.
Lisa Gorgin’s Carla is a more stereotypical gum-popping, hard-nosed working-class women with a “Croydon Facelift” and has considerably less development in the text. The initial meeting between Carla and Heather is well played by Gorgin as the women move easily between camaraderie and suspicion, as a flow of conspiracy and conflict emerges between them that sustains the play, but Gorgin is left with little to do but grimace in the rest of the show which she does with suitable menace and incredulity.
This revival of The Wasp occasionally feels rather wordy, which elongates the two-hour runtime, although the story is compelling enough to keep you watching. It has lots to say about the effects of bullying, asking insightful questions about when to excuse it and the price of revenge. It’s great to see more plays with big lead roles for women, which Giles and Gorgin take full advantage of, and it is an interesting restaging, but The Wasp needs more sting.
Runs until 12 August 2017 | Image: Contributed