The Wasp is the second show to transfer to Trafalgar Studios from the Hampstead Theatre, following last month's Four Minutes Twelve Seconds. Like that show, this is a tightly woven dramatic thriller but rather than revenge porn, we have a tale of entrapment through social media and revenge of a far more pre-mediated and sadistic nature.
It begins innocently enough as two childhood friends meet in a coffee shop. Heather (Laura Donnelly) was bullied at school by Carla (Myanna Buring), but now needs her help with a personal matter. There's a clear class divide between them, highlighting their opposing trajectories since school: Heather is a middle-class, financially successful and well-presented woman unable to have children, whilst Carla is a working class baby making machine. We make assumptions on each character based purely on appearance, just as they judge each other.
Yet this is a play where appearances are deceiving. Heather wants her husband dead and she wants Carla to do it. It's an absurd narrative jump from the calm opening that seems to cement the play as a black comedy - there are plenty of laughs as the two women propose methodologies. Peel back the layers, though, and The Wasp soon becomes truly horrifying with its tales of entrapment, sexual abuse, sickening ultimatums, and a metaphor based on the titular wasp, asking us to question who exactly is bullying whom?
To say any more would ruin the twists and turns of the ever-surprising plot. At its heart this is an exploration of the wickedly disturbing psyche of a woman unable to have children and unable to let go of the past, whilst simultaneously dissecting the impact of childhood psychological and physical trauma and the cyclical nature of violence.
It's quite a lot to take on, but author Morgan Lloyd Malcolm gradually unveils each grippingly disturbing plot point, making the ludicrous plausible. She has a keen ear for dialogue, the two characters contrasting in style and tone as they evolve before us into entirely different women to those of the opening scene. Donnelly gives Heather an initial awkwardness and politeness that slowly turns to unpredictability and a terrifying determination, whilst the bravado of Buring's swaggering Carla eventually melts in the face of adversity. Both performances haunt in what is a deeply affecting and powerful drama that bristles with nervous energy.
With one excellent transfer after another, the Hampstead Theatre is on a roll. As in this drama: what's coming next?
Watch: The Wasp runs at Trafalgar Studios until 16th January.
Photos: Ikin Yum