Monday, 2 February 2015

Theatre review: The Wasp

Although they came from very different backgrounds, Carla and Heather were good friends at primary school. But as they got into their teens, Carla started to resent her friend's much more privileged home life. Joining up with a new group of girls, they made Heather the most frequent target of their bullying, which ended up taking a particularly vicious turn. A couple of decades on, their statuses in life aren't too different to how they were as children: Heather (Sinéad Matthews) is well-off, married but childless. After years without any contact she's found her old friend/enemy on Facebook. She invites Carla (MyAnna Buring, as opposed to YourAnna Buring) for coffee, to make her a proposition. Poor, frustrated and pregnant with her fifth child, Carla assumes Heather wants to hire her as a surrogate.

But in the first of many twists to Morgan Lloyd Malcolm's The Wasp, Heather's request is very different, and it takes the play into a black comedy as the two women try to arrange the perfect crime.

Tom Attenborough's production trusts its two actors to keep the momentum going - it never feels static but isn't afraid to keep its characters locked in still and intense discussion. What seems like it'll be a commentary on class turns out to be more concerned with how our school days poison us throughout our lives.

Matthews is always a joy to watch, here offering an utterly demented worldview wrapped up in a cosy, seemingly reasonable package. Buring provides a more down-to-earth foil, a confidence born of having survived a hard life, but which may be misplaced now.

A couple of the plot revelations are a bit abrupt, but as the play's structure is built on multiple twists and tonal shifting, it pretty much gets away with this. Much of the last half-hour is made up of a deliberately meandering monologue from Heather, which does go round in circles somewhat. And the opening scene sees Buring chain-smoking in the small Hampstead Downstairs space, which makes for a bit of a headachy atmosphere. But these issues aside, The Wasp is inventive and different, and Matthews is as watchable as ever.

The Wasp by Morgan Lloyd Malcolm is booking until the 7th of March at Hampstead Theatre Downstairs.

Running time: 1 hour 25 minutes straight through.

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