A bully and her victim reunite 20 years on over a strange and dark proposition. However, this new production of The Wasp fails to deliver the full stinging impact I had hoped for.
Morgan Lloyd Malcolm’s The Wasp is a play full of dark twists and a narrative that sits slightly on the other side of plausible. Despite the long conversation filled scenes, the drama moves quickly forward into the strange realm of school-girl tensions fought out in adult women. It’s full of potential for an intense build up, but a lack of clear directorial vision means it doesn’t quite deliver on the tension.
Within the first 30 seconds of The Wasp, I already feel an identity crisis emerging. Placebo are a great band, but would not be my opening song of choice for most plays. Nevertheless, The Bitter End blares as Carla (Lisa Gorgin) enters. She performs a slightly awkward ‘waiting sequence’ that goes on a little too long as Brian Molko warbles away. Perhaps it’s a reference to the darkness of teenage angst. Perhaps the lyrics are meant to tell us something. Either way, it seems a bit tonally obtuse.
I want to forgive the lack of subtlety in the opening sequence because opening sequences are a bit like the covers of books and I don’t like being too judgemental. Unfortunately, once Heather (Selina Giles) enters, it is clear subtly is not part of this production’s vocabulary. The costumes make both women look like shadows of their schoolgirl selves neither quite looking adult enough for this to be believable naturalism. The performances too are slightly exaggerated versions of their class identities. If this was intentional, it is very on the chin and my chin is already covered in Malcolm’s text which spells out an obvious commentary on the differing experiences of existentially anxious middle class Heather and struggling working class Carla.
The exaggeration sort of works with Heather. She is absurd but in a way, her absurdity makes her funny, dislikable and almost feel believable. Carla however is played as a textbook stereotype of a working class mum and I feel uncomfortable from the get go. I acknowledge that much of her class identity is formed by Malcolm’s text, but instead of using her background to form a complex human being, she is played as a lazy stereotype. I see a glimpse of human relatability in the last scene and it’s frustrating that it takes that long to get there.
The stereotyping of Carla’s character doesn’t just leave a bad taste in regards to class representation. The lack of nuance and subtly means the power play between the two characters, the absolute crux of this play, is somewhat lost. There are some directorial issues with pacing that leave the first scene dragging and the tension doesn’t build properly until the last scene. I think a lack of clear identity for this production has hindered it significantly, and Simpson has tried to throw symbolism over a play that doesn’t need it. There is a lot of potential in Giles’ performance and with a rethink of the overall vision and the portrayal of Carla, this production could do a lot better.