Michelle East
10th Dec 2022

Heather and Carla were once childhood friends. Now in their early thirties, they have agreed to meet, and it is no happy reunion. Carla had her oldest son as a teenager and is now expecting her fifth child. Stuck in a relentless poverty trap. Heather has the smug air of superiority of the financially secure, neat and in control, but she is desperate for a child. Both are unhappily married and neither have fond memories of high school. From their awkward and defensive conversation, we suppose that life has dealt them different hands based on their social status. So far, so stereotyped. Then Heather makes an unexpected proposition.

We learn that the wasp is a tarantula hawk wasp, whose incubation takes place inside a tarantula and emerges into adulthood by eating the spider from the inside out. Nasty sting. Just who is the wasp and who is the spider?

Just as we think we know; a new piece of information arrives. The plot twists and turns, the power dynamics shift as do our sympathies and we do not really know who to believe in this tricky relationship. Through the slow reveal of shocking details of their teenage traumas, the characters emerge from their stereotypes into believable, complicated personalities that capture the nastiness of teenagers with the carried forward emotional and psychological impacts of their childhood experiences.

The Wasp deals with strong themes of bullying, family and domestic violence, sexual assault, and mental illness with intelligence. In a break with the norm, girls and women are perpetrators as well as victims of violence. Darkly humorous dialogue provides nuance and release. Moments of connection between Heather and Carla suggest that kindness and forgiveness may just be the antidote to end the cycle of violence that neither has escaped.

UK playwright and screenwriter Morgan Lloyd Malcom creates strong roles for women and this psychological thriller provides meaty and complex characters for the actors to really flex their muscles. Clara Whitehouse and Jessica Bell more than step up to the challenge, each delivering stunning performances. Whitehouse is utterly convincing as Heather, in all her controlled manipulative derangement. Bell inhabits her role as the deliciously coarse Carla. Director Becks Blake deftly controls the intensity and humour, taking the audience on a thrilling, suspense-filled ride.

The Wasp wraps up the 2022 season for KXT bAKEHOUSE on a high and ends seven seasons of bold independent theatre at the Kings Cross Hotel. It would be a pity if peak silly season meant you missed this production. My advice is to skip the work party, you already know how that ends. Head up the stairs one last time to witness independent theatre at its best and remarkable talent so early in their careers.

The Wasp is on until 17 December. For the 2023 season, KXT bAKEHOUSE moves into new digs at 181 Broadway Ultimo.