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[Performance Analysis:] THE WASP, The Hen & Chickens Theatre, London.

This is a truly excellent play, wonderfully written by Morgan Lloyd Malcolm, and expertly cast, with direction by Wendy Bollard.

Comedy is instrumentalised well in the former portion of this text, with quick-witted quips, character idiosyncrasies and the general disparity between the two coaxing us to connect, understand, bond with and enjoy each of the characters respectively. Having drawn us in with such comedic devices, we are better prepared to empathise with Carla (Jennifer Thornton) in the latter portion of the play and to have a profounder response to Heather’s (Tegan Verheul) psychopathy and evil actions. This is well constructed.

On the note of characters, these are also very well conceived. Caricatural at first, with mentions of ‘rescued lattes’ and Carla’s ultimately chav-like identity, these characters are readily accessible and inviting, immediately comprehensible in their oppositional personalities. As the initial conversation deepens, we move towards opinionatedness and unexpected details (sixty-year-old husbands, Facebook-stalking, catfishing, etc.), and these initially presumed superficial characters become increasingly and unceasingly interesting and layered, culminating, of course, in Heather’s devilish plot and kickstarting what becomes an absurd, well paced and whirlwind narrative style. Heather’s political comebacks as well as the rockiness in the relationship between the two, engaged in one another in one moment and arguing the next, pretexts well the extreme discord into which they will later be forced and also alludes to previous tensions well, all without giving too much away.

This being said, the plot in itself, that Heather actually secretly wishes to exert her revenge upon Carla, and not her husband, is, indeed, notably predictable. Aforementioned comedic devices and the excellent and commendable unpredictability of character profiles [as opposed to the plot] are what make this play so unique and engaging and do offset this predictability well — initially. However, it is by Heather’s second monologue, once she has re-gagged Carla, that this predictability works against the text.

I enjoy that Heather delivers her spiels about semi-unrelated topics within this harrowing and murderous context, further enriched with the cool and calm demeanour Verheul portrays her with, as though completely absent-minded and unfeeling in her psychopathic doings, intensifying, moreover, the sinisterness of the material. However, by the second monologue, the effect has slightly worn off. It is easy to disengage from her venting about the evils of the world, corrupt politicians, the supposed effects of karma, and the eventual consequences of every evil action. Her intentions, worldview and schemes already well explicated by this point — again, emphasised by the predictability of plot — this second rant becomes notably superfluous, and monotony starts to sink in; we lose momentum. I would recommend removing this second monologue entirely, or, at the very least, editing and combining the two together to ensure that all the necessary and most textured points are still covered.

As for acting, these performers are truly exceptional, talented and skilled in their portrayals. I should mention that Verheul does retain a greater degree of credibility and naturalism, but both demonstrate excellent character awareness, maintaining wonderful corporeal and vocal expressivity throughout. Both are able to portray the initial caricatural aspects of their characters well and yet manage to texturise their profiles as the play progresses, too.

I only have two small notes for improvement for these actors. For Verheul, quick shifts in thought, especially in the first scene, are presented too artificially, by which I mean that when Heather second-guesses herself, jumping around her words, these shifts are presented as too structured, deliberate and untidy. I would recommend working on the presentation of rapid shifts of thought in this way. As for Thornton, there is a very similar problem wherein tag questions or moments in her lines where Carla is breaking away from a train of thought, asking for reassurance or, again, second-guessing herself, lack the intonation and pacing appropriate to natural speech. Any negative or impassioned emotions routinely feel unnatural from Thornton, and one thing, in particular, that I would recommend in regard to this is that she maintain her expressions of horror when her character is tied to the chair, as this rather quickly peters out as Heather’s monologue progresses, not into submission but indifference. Beyond these two issues, these are truly outstanding performers with great control over their roles and with excellent stage presence.

Finally, there are a few directorial and design issues that ought to be addressed. First, transitions are atrocious. Far too long and untidy. This could be easily resolved in all instances, however. For example, after the very first scene, Thornton could take the coffee cups after rearranging the table, whilst Verheul makes a speedy exit behind the backdrop where she will then change out of her first costume and into her second, which I imagine and hope was concealed under the first. I remain confused as to why the actors exited and re-entered several times, empty-handed, only to come back and deal with aspects of the set that could have all been handled in their first exits. Another recommendation: why should we not see Heather tie Carla up and prepare the room with the stage lights up? With lighting being far too bright for transitions, we can observe Carla come back to life after passing out, tying her own gag, fixing herself, aiding Heather in tying her up, and then passing back out again. This is far too destructive of illusion, and I would urge creatives to show the same attention to pacing that they do in this transition: slowly tie her up…slowly prepare the stage… This could be tremendously effective and would take the same amount of time as this transition currently does — or less — whilst improving credibility, continuity and mood.

I mentioned lighting was too bright during transitions, and lighting (designed by Juliann Pichelski) is used equally precariously at other times as well. For example, when lighting states are deliberately changed as the two recall the pigeon incident or as Heather, furious and superior, denigrates her husband. The former is comedic in its exaggerativeness and randomness, and this is not the appropriate style for this moment, which actually intends to be dark, sinister, revelatory. I would recommend if this effect is to be kept that the cue be processed far more gradually, such that it is nearly impossible to perceive the new state until we finally recognise that the stage is now engulfed in it; this would de-intensify this comedic effect and lend to the revelatory and transformative nature of the text here. In the second instance, the changing lighting state has the same effect but transforms the aesthetic and mood so much that there is a supplementary sense of foreboding. When this portion of the text — which is far too lengthy; I would recommend editing this down — proves to be quite long-winded and monotonous, this comedic setup draws intense unwanted attention to the faltering comedy. The foreboding has promised something that we do not receive and in such an obnoxiously stylised manner. This stylisation, evidenced in both examples, contrasts far too harshly against an otherwise entirely realistic and natural presentation.

All pedantic criticisms aside, this remains an excellent performance. I would certainly recommend giving it a watch!

“An exemplary performance; a wildly entertaining text excellently performed.”


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