By Sofya Grebenkina
I cannot stress how important it is to watch Castle Theatre Company’s production of The Wasp for yourself, and having been granted this experience I cannot divulge much of the plot without spoiling your own. All I can say is that Clara and Heather, two acquaintances from high school, meet in a café at Heather’s behest to discuss a ‘business proposal.’ What begins as a deceptively clichéd and underwhelming narrative quickly descends into mayhem as things fall apart and then gradually fall back into a new order.
The audience is left on edge throughout, hanging onto every word, as the changes in tone gather speed. The two actresses, Damson Young (Heather) and Alexandra Hannant (Carla) seamlessly show the audience the shifts in power throughout the play. Although the themes explored are overtly dark, there is a subtlety conveyed by the acting that makes it a multi-layered and exciting production. The careful handling of small details, such as Heather asking Carla to remove her shoes without taking hers off, is an indication of how expertly the directorial team handled the script.
The transition from Young’s cold and controlling demeanour to the bursts of fury hiding beneath the surface was especially chilling, and because of this Heather retained a poignancy despite the extremity of her actions. However, even though her expression and intonation were well-matched to the demands of the part, there could be some tweaks made to her posture when she is sitting down. At times there was a dissonance between her facial expression and the body language she was projecting. Hannant was consistent with her character throughout, as well as with her accent. However, during the first half of the play, she lacked projection and some of the comedic potential in her lines was subsequently lost. These are minor pitfalls in what was overall a gripping hour, and there is no contention that Alexander Marshall (Director) should be proud of his first-time venture into this role.
I must commend the ingenuity of staging the play in Cafédral. To my knowledge, no other production has taken place there. Yet apart from the originality of the location, it was also entirely suitable for the themes explored within the play and used to its full potential. Again, the attention to detail entirely captivated me, as Young left Hannant at the café table, only to have two cups of tea made for her by someone behind the bar. What was previously a welcoming open space was advantageously transformed for this production. The quaintness of the café and Heather’s living room produced an uncomfortable dissonance between the décor and the action of the play, only serving to highlight the precariousness of surface judgment. There is no such thing as a perfect life, however hard either of them tried to hold onto the fantasy.
Despite the complexity of the staging the tech was very minimal, which directed the audience’s focus entirely on the acting. The only real lighting cue was the blackout, which split the play in two, and entailed the physical migration of the audience from café to inside Heather’s house. Yet because of the small audience capacity and the helpfulness of the production team it was executed without a hitch. Also because of its timing within the narrative, it did not noticeably disrupt the action of the plot. The audience remained on tenterhooks for what would happen next. Yet the blackout at the finale was too brief, and what was obviously the climax of the play lost its gravity as the audience had little time to process what had just happened. In a play which had so far had only minor details out of place, this was a noticeable flaw.
This is not a play for the faint-hearted. And having erroneously expected to be inundated with insect-related facts, I instead pleasantly chanced upon a powerful work of theatre. What I took home with me, was how The Wasp never lets you forget the unpredictable cruelty hidden in our humanity, so unlike the natural impulses easily identifiable in the tarantula hawk, lifeless in its glass case on the mantelpiece.
‘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