The Wasp

Morgan Lloyd Malcolm
Hampstead Theatre
Trafalgar Studios 2

Myanna Buring as Carla and Laura Donnelly as Heather Credit: Ikin Yum
Myanna Buring as Carla Credit: Ikin Yum
Laura Donnelly as Heather Credit: Ikin Yum
Myanna Buring as Carla Credit: Ikin Yum

Working-class Carla and posh-voiced middle-class Heather were friends at school, despite the difference in background, then they weren’t. What happened? What did Carla do, or was it Heather?

Twenty years later, Heather has found Carla on Facebook and has asked for a meeting. Why?

Carla is pregnant, though that hasn’t halted her heavy nicotine habit. The bump is her fifth child. She had her first just after she left school. Her husband is much older than she is and they are hard up. Carla seems to have everything: successful husband, nice house and a comfortable life style but no children, though they’ve been trying, desperately trying.

This is one of those plays that unpeels information layer by layer, that turns anything I tell you into a spoiler because the any twists in the story are what hold you: that and the near-perfect playing of the two antagonists.

The wasp of the title is a Tarantula Hawk Wasp, a species that exploits tarantulas. With their sting, they first paralyse a tarantula, drag it to their nest, lay an egg on its abdomen, then seal the nest. Nasty! When the egg hatches its larva makes a hole in the creature’s abdomen and goes in to feed on the still-living spider.

There is specimen of the species framed on the wall in Heather’s house, the pride of her husband’s entomological collection: but who is, or who was, the wasp? Is it Heather or Carla?

Is this all about what happened 20 years ago? When Heather starts talking about motherhood, Carla guesses she wants a surrogate mother; she would do it, even give up smoking if the money was made more. It looks as though she is on the right track, but then things get much darker, for this is all about murder.

There is a deal done and, from a coffee shop courtyard, the action moves to Heather’s home for a meeting to work out their plans in detail plan.

The plot twists are intriguing, the denouement unpredictable, the plotting skilful. The writing creates two convincing women formed by their backgrounds and experiences; it is a commentary on class as well as a mystery. It is about bullying, violence, and fidelity in marriage. Morgan Lloyd Malcolm packs a lot into his single act play and Tom Attenborough’s direction makes sure it holds the attention as it delivers its surprises.

Both actresses seem totally convincing even as the action becomes increasingly melodramatic. You can almost hear Carla’s brain working, at moments see why they were friends once, and Laura Donnelly makes even a long tirade from Heather seem real.

This production, brought in from Hampstead Theatre where it premièred earlier in the year, is very worth watching.

Reviewer: Howard Loxton