Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Review: 'The Wasp' at the Jermyn Street Theatre, 1st August 2017

The Wasp reviewed by David James

Rating: 4 Stars

Carla (Lisa Gorgin) looks as she's walked off the set of Jeremy Kyle. Hair up in a high ponytail, wearing loose-fitting sportswear and a perpetually suspicious omnisneer, as if she can sense the well to do West End audience silently judging her. It's difficult not to - she's heavily pregnant and smoking heavily. Soon after enters Heather (Selina Giles), her social opposite. She's all Samantha Cameron chic, that composed kind of woman who has hit her forties and yogically retained her youthful complexion.

And yet once upon a time (twenty years ago in school to be precise), they were besties. Now Heather has asked Carla to meet for a coffee and has an interesting proposition. What follows is akin to the slow closing of a Venus Fly Trap: the history of the two women is gradually revealed, we learn what makes them tick and we find out precisely how far they'll go in pursuit of their desires. (Pretty damn far as it turns out).

I don't want to spoil the plot as watching it gradually unfurl is one of the prime joys of The Wasp. All I'll say is that the title refers to the Tarantula Hawk Wasp, which reproduces by delivering a paralysing sting to a tarantula spider and proceeds to lay an egg in its abdomen. When the larva hatches it begins to voraciously eat the spider's internal organs, keeping it alive for as long as possible until the adult wasp emerges from the hollowed out husk and flies away. Make of that what you will.

First staged in 2015 in the Hampstead Downstairs' space and Trafalgar Studios 2, this is a crisp, taut bit of playwriting that accomplishes almost all of what it sets out to do. Most obvious is a neat dissection of class: playwright Morgan Lloyd Malcolm all but daring us to unleash our inner Daily Mail reader and look down our nose at the track suited, chain-smoking Carla. Throwing her up against the prim n' proper Heather makes for some pointed moments - as when Heather begins talking about them being from 'different worlds'. 

This class awkwardness powers the dynamics, bubbling away in the early scenes where Heather pops in for a latte and Carla drinks a builder's tea, and when they're awkwardly trying to find some common ground. But it's in the second act, which takes place in Heather's tastefully Ikea'd living room where things take increasingly twisted turns. Heather is in her element, with Carla sticking out like a sore thumb - and ominously framed by a wall covered in framed, pinned and preserved butterflies. As the plot takes ever more demented, we learn that there are a couple of things that cross class boundaries: fear, pain and violence.

I'm doing my best to dance around who does what to whom and why, so you'll just have to take my word for it when I say that this is a very twisted bit of drama that left my gruesome side extremely sated.

Both Giles and Gorgin deliver top notch performances as they plumb extreme emotional depths. Over two hours we stop off at pretty much every point on the emotional spectrum, but we never ever lose sight of the core of who these women are. Even during the wildest outbursts, we can still recognise the two wounded schoolgirls that remain deep under their adult carapaces. The most chilling moment comes in a skin-crawling monologue by Heather, in which the character bares her soul. It's so well delivered I actually had a full body shiver at one point, which is pretty much the gold standard of me being properly 'into' something.

In a West End largely populated by the sentimental and saccharine, The Wasp is a focused, cruel little bullet to the head. It's engaging, chock fulla meaty thematic stuff and each scene transition leaves you dying to find out what happened next. In addition, I have rarely seen such a tense interval cliffhanger. Go check it out!

The Wasp is at the Jermyn Street Theatre until August 12th. Tickets here.

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