Review by Jack Mitchell
How far would you go to help someone you haven’t seen since school? What if they made you an offer you couldn’t refuse?
Carla (Jessica Bell) and Heather (Cara Whitehouse) are two British women who haven’t seen each other in years. Carla wears big hoop earrings, an Adidas t-shirt, and chain smokes while pregnant with her fifth child. Heather wears high-waisted jeans and white trainers, and is a guardian-reading, latte-sipping soft lefty. It comes out that Heather is having trouble conceiving with her husband, which is just the start of the couple’s issues, and she asks Carla for help. The rest of the play unfolds over three acts in unpredictable twists and turns that are rivetingly crafted by Morgan Lloyd Malcolm and impressively executed by Akimbo & Co. It is a story that you really need to see for yourself.
Bell chews on the working-class English sounds of her accent like she chews on biscuits and tea at moments throughout the play: with brashness and ease. Her characterisation was fully realised down to the quiver of an eyebrow, hand, or foot, and was both hilarious and moving to watch. Whitehouse’s Heather is at the other end of the spectrum; quiet, formulaic, self-effacing, and was a good foil for Carla’s overtness. At times her manner felt too restricted to one note of delivery, but there were real moments of emotional connection for her later in the play which packed a punch.
Both actors had to work with a large amount of emotionally taxing content, bringing significant levels of drive and energy to the stage in order to keep this tense two-hander moving. The pace was strong, the tension was palpable, and I truly had no idea where it would go next.
Axel Hinkley’s set design believably evoked a well-tended home, with the selection of artworks on one wall becoming omens of the concepts which would unravel on stage. Johnny Yang’s sound design was well-conceived, with strings and other instruments quivering and humming like the insect of the play’s title, and effectively complementing the taut dialogue. The movement of the play’s action felt natural, and director Becks Blake used the actors’ bodies to evoke the shifting power dynamics between the characters. They did however move onto parts of the set in the first act which weren’t a part of the narrative until Act 2, which foreshadowed the forthcoming confluence of these two peoples’ lives, but was a little confusing in its bleeding together of time and place.
The Wasp asks many questions of the audience – questions that provoke reflections on privilege, the past, and the lengths to which we might bend our sense of morality to protect ourselves. This is a gripping thriller, and a great way for KXT to round out their season before moving to Broadway in 2023.
The Wasp is playing at KXT in the Cross until December 17.