I can’t remember the last time I saw a production where the shock of the final act provoked an audible collective gasp from the audience. Yet this is what happened as The Wasp came to a dramatic close in the intimate setting of the Etcetera Theatre. The reaction was not surprising, however. It proved that if the intention had been to create an intense and immersive piece of theatre from Morgan Lloyd Malcolm’s script, it had certainly succeeded.
The Wasp opens with the deceptively simple premise of two young women meeting in a cafe for the first time in years, during which their lives have taken very different paths. One has a potentially life changing proposition for the other. As the action unfolds, however, it is clear that this not cliched ‘chick-lit’ with the ‘happy ever after’ ending but instead intends to pack a much more powerful socially aware punch. Part of this punch comes from David Scott’s incisive direction of this multi-layered two hander but a big part must come from the strong, heart-felt performances from the two young actors themselves. From the outset, Emma B George is admirably believable as the pregnant, care-worn Carla. Anna Zanders, too, effectively portrays the essence of Heather, who superficially has made a good life for herself but who we gradually learn is as scarred by her past and present as her former schoolfriend.
The crucial class division between the pair is expressed well by their differing use of language – Heather’s articulate RP vs Carla’s expletive heavy directness – and styling. Care has obviously also been taken in the set design to create the refined middle-class setting of Heather’s living room, from the copy of The Observer placed on the glass coffee table to the tasteful prints adorning the walls.
The small auditorium allows even the merest of gestures to be observed by the audience which adds to the feeling of being totally immersed in the intense action. The simple, dark, almost oppressive set effectively reflects the dark themes which are gradually revealed as the realities of both the women’s lives is made apparent. George and Zanders have to be commended for portraying these troubled characters in this mentally exhausting production. Credit, too, must go to newcomer Jon Fisk who delivers the final, killer line from off-stage with confidence and suitable intrigue.
The Wasp is a play for our time, highlighting themes not only of class and gender inequality but also of abuse, justice and revenge. It is not an easy watch, raising more questions than it answers and there is no happy ending. It does, however, ably demonstrate that theatre productions don’t necessarily need a big budget and an elaborate set to deliver a strong message. For a passionate, thought provoking performance it is well worth a visit.