By Martha Bozic
The performance space for Castle Theatre Company’s The Wasp seems more Edinburgh Fringe than DST. Chosen due to “a real shortage of small venues” in Durham, Cafédral provides an original and realistic backdrop for the upcoming two-hander. Faithful to the setting of the first act, it is a charming tea shop just down from the castle in which Damson Young and Alexandra Hannant will play Heather and Carla, reunited for the first time since school. The homely atmosphere of the place, created by an abundance of sofas, armchairs and lamps, and a fireplace, is also perfect for the second act, set in Heather’s living room. In both acts the novel venue choice allows the audience to not only observe, but bear witness to the events unfolding before them as if they were themselves just bystanders. If such artistic potential is not convincing enough, they will also be serving tea.
The Wasp is a play that thrives on plot twists and actively tries to shock its audience at every turn. Two middle-aged women meeting up for tea may not seem like the classic basis for a psychological thriller, but that is one of the reasons director Alexander Marshall was so attracted to the script. “It’s not something that you see a huge amount of.” Producer Carrie Gaunt elaborates, telling me that what makes this show unique is the way in which it presents the two female characters and “deals with the psychology of teenage girls,” a topic which she argues is often overlooked despite its clichéd nature.
As the first act opens, it quickly transpires that Heather and Carla live very different lives. In what appears to be a familiar tale of redemption, Carla, once the school bully and Heather’s tormentor, is now pregnant with her fifth child, stuck in a dead-end job and struggling for money. Heather, meanwhile, has it all – a career, a husband and a significant disposable income. Despite Carla’s insistence early on that you only realise how inconsequential school is when you leave, the overarching message of the play seems to suggest otherwise. Gaunt thinks this is something that will ring with the Durham audience, “we don’t realise how people carry their school history, through university, into adult life.”
One unavoidable theme in The Wasp is class, something everyone involved is painfully aware of. Hannant tells me that “[Marshall was] really keen not to make it a stereotype” and he reiterates, saying that he wants to “open people’s eyes” and make it clear that class doesn’t change who the characters are as people. As a play which challenges its audience to make assumptions, Marshall believes “it is quite dangerous to do it in Durham [where there are] a lot of very middle-class white people.” Despite the dark content of the play, there are many moments of comedy, and here, in particular, he was careful not to allow Carla, as a working-class character, to become the joke. In the short run-through I watched, it certainly seems he has achieved this goal, and while the well-crafted physicality and speech of both Young and Hannant make the differences between their characters clear, there is a definite sense that – as Young puts it – “class is a factor, but it’s not the only factor.”
In the end, this is a play which, as well as being engaging and entertaining throughout, will leave you with a lot to think about. Its mundane setting is offset by the flawed, unstable leads and a plot that is completely unpredictable. Before I leave, Marshall brings out a wasp, preserved in formaldehyde, apparently a prop. I am unsure what this means, but along with finally seeing the killer ending which the cast and crew kept alluding to, I would desperately like to find out.
‘The Wasp’ will be performed in Cafédral from Wednesday, 15th March to Friday 17th March at 20:00. Book your tickets here.
Photograph: Castle Theatre Company