Helena Snider sees two schoolmates reunited in this stinging tale.  

Castle Theatre Company’s production of Morgan Lloyd Malcolm’s The Wasp attempts to shed some light on one big question: why are we driven to do the things we do? Thanks to an excellent cast of two, plus some clever choices on the director’s part, some semblance of an answer is provided, despite a tricky script.

The play starts with coffee and ends with sedatives. Resultantly, it is a far more exciting play than its title lets on, and don’t worry, the plot has nothing to do with insects. What really happens is this: two women with apparently nothing in common see each other for the first time in twenty years. One bullied the other at school, and this dynamic is repeated for the duration of the play. Carla (Alexandra Hannant) is pregnant with her fifth child while Heather (Damson Young) laments her difficultly in conceiving. As Heather and Carla sip their hot drinks, we think we know what is going to happen. But the first lesson of The Wasp is to not be taken in by appearances.

The venue was an excellent choice, and its intimacy was suited to the intensity of the storyline. The script is set in two separate but similar locations: a quaint little café and Heather’s prim and proper living room. There is a pronounced taste for twee accessories. I liked the fact that tea and cakes were offered to audience members at the start, almost as though we too were part of the scene, complicit in the act. There were fluffy cushions and framed photos and cups of tea in abundance. It was almost sickeningly sweet – but that’s the point. You begin to feel cosy and safe, then slightly unnerved, until you are dragged into a kind of horror show when you are least expecting it. In this way, the incongruous setting matches the story; one of these women is a villain, and it’s not necessarily the one we think it will be.

And this is where the actors got the chance to display their talents. Alexandra Hannant and Damson Young were experts at playing psychological games both with one another and with the audience. Early on, we accept that there is something going on beneath the surface. Still, the extent to which they manage to shock and surprise – allowing us a bit of insight but never fully giving the game away– was compelling. Also impressive was the actors’ ability to behave convincingly as forty-years-olds – no mean feat when you look like a university undergraduate. Although the costumes and a fake baby bump helped, Hannant was able to convey an air of weariness, of being half-dead, that struck me as notably middle-aged. Young, on the other hand, employed a very upper-class British mother-type persona, with a faux-polite personality. Her mannerisms, such as her constant nodding, fake smiling and slightly embarrassed expression, were highly realistic.

As previously mentioned, however, this play is all about what lies beneath the surface. For me, its ending passed the limits of credibility, but all in all, this was a surreal, interesting and worthwhile production. It was difficult piece of work to pull off, but Castle Theatre Company were able to overcome challenges presented by the script through their admirable attention to detail of set and costume, as well as sensitive acting and overall enthusiasm.

16 March 2017

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