Theatre Review: The Wasp, Hampstead Downstairs, Hampstead Theatre

Myanna Buring and Sinead Matthews in The Wasp

Myanna Buring and Sinead Matthews in The Wasp

The Wasp is a smart two-hander in which Morgan Lloyd Malcolm’s script explores the impact of childhood experiences on our adult lives in a dark, if sometimes camply absurd, thriller with an ending that is as swift and sharp as a sting.

Despite the gulf in their social backgrounds and upbringings, Carla (Myanna Buring) and Heather (Sinead Matthews) were best friends until year eight when things went a little Lord Of The Flies. Twenty years later, we meet them in a cafe where a heavily pregnant Carla is chain smoking while Heather, all lattes and pashmina, stutteringly explains why she wanted to see her former friend again despite the cruelty she inflicted on her.

Their meeting is nervy and heavy with secrets, we all know that Heather hasn’t simply arranged to meet Carla to talk about her marriage woes with her husband Simon or her fertility problems. As they drain the last of their tea and Carla stubs out her final cigarette, the story takes a sharp twist and with a swift set change, we’re in Heather’s magazines-on-coffee-tables-“shoes-off” house where things are about to get even darker.

Even in the confines of Heather’s middle-class sitting room, the play continues to wring out increasing bleak secrets. What specific incident has scarred Heather so deeply that she’s consumed by it twenty years later? And how far is this “Guardian-reading, left-leaning” woman prepared to go to help heal her wounds?

Lloyd Malcolm’s script occasionally loses focus and there are a few moments when the characters have to dig themselves out of a plot u-turn, but when it’s en pointe, The Wasp is absorbing and laced with enough black humour to cancel out its more absurd moments.

Myanna Buring is brilliant as Carla – during a scene when she finds herself in a situation stickier than a cobweb, she’s devastating in her fear and vulnerability. Sinead Matthews has a harder time with Heather; she’s a jittery, not quite fully formed character and Matthews never quite got the character’s rhythm right, losing some of the vital humour in her agitated delivery (this was a preview performance). But the ending helps to make sense of Heather a little and completely underpins the story with an assurance that erases any niggles.

by Suzanne Elliott

The Wasp, Hampstead Downstairs, Hampstead Theatre until 7 March

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