Theatre Review: THE WASP – Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester


Shocking, harrowing and darkly comic, THE WASP is a twisting two-hander which examines the impact of bullying

It is said that your school days are the best days of your life but for some, they are a nightmare. Puberty, adolescent hormones and bullying can all have lasting effects for both the victim and the perpetrator. But what happens when our childhood experiences follow us into adulthood? Morgan Lloyd Malcolm’s 2015 play THE WASP examines just that.

Almost 20 years after they left school, THE WASP opens with Heather and Carla meeting up for the first time. Once friends, their lives have taken two very different paths since leaving education. Carla is heavily pregnant with baby number five, smoking heavily and struggling to make ends meet, while Heather has a high-flying career, a husband and a beautiful home. But we soon discover that the history between the two women is not a pleasant one and is more than just a bit of name-calling in the playground. Sat in a café drinking tea and making awkward conversation, Heather soon presents Carla with a bag containing a significant amount of cash and an unexpected proposition that draws them both back into the past.

Shocking, harrowing and darkly comic, THE WASP is a twisting two-hander which asks how far beyond the playground we carry our childhood experiences. Sprung tightly, Director Benedict Power revels in the play’s unexpected plot twists, carefully and slowly building up tension before disrupting the flow by delivering some genuine gasp-inducing shock moments.

Aided by Natalie Johnson’s innovative set and lighting design, Power handles the balance between comedy and tension well and, for the most part, the various revelations are reasonably well-hidden. Just when you feel you have sense of the characters, the power shifts and the audience’s sympathies begin to see-saw.

Much of the play’s strength lies in the exceptional lead performances from Charlie Young and Debbie Brannan as Heather and Carla respectively. The two actors bounce off each other well as they move easily between camaraderie and suspicion and there is a naturalism to their performance that makes you forget that you’re watching a play. Charlie Young in particular commands your attention as Heather, the woman whose initial vulnerability and awkwardness hides a more sinister dimension.

Yet while Lloyd Malcolm’s psycho-drama is enjoyably nasty, some of the dialogue is a little close to the bone at times and as the story develops, its disturbing nature makes it increasingly uncomfortable to watch.

That said, this is thrilling, real edge-of-the-seat drama with some strong lead performances and enough twists and turns to keep the intrigue high. There is also an openness and realism to the writing about the damage of bullying and the way in which those wounds can continue to fester, in many cases, for years afterwards.

4.5 out of 5 stars

THE WASP runs at Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester until 16 June 2018.