The torments of the past have not been forgiven or forgotten in this gripping psychological drama.
Mean girls are everywhere, in every generation, and their power has been at the heart of some extremely successful pieces of writing – not least Tina Fey’s 2004 film starring Lindsay Lohan.
The key ingredient of the top-grade mean girls is that they can walk coolly away from the victims of their cruelty, apparently unmoved by the devastation they’ve caused.
But in Morgan Lloyd Malcolm’s play, simmering resentment over past wrongs resurfaces in the most startling and sinister fashion, when a meeting is engineered between one-time school friends Carla and Heather. Lloyd Malcolm has created two intense and complex characters, who remain on stage more or less all the time, making this a tour de force for both.
Flinty-eyed Myanna Buring is scarily convincing as the tough, chain-smoking baby-machine Carla, while the repressed rage that simmers in Heather – cool, successful but childless – is chillingly portrayed by Laura Donnelly.
Tom Attenborough’s direction keeps the monologues and bitter exchanges fresh and crisp, steadily building tension throughout with help from the atmospheric lighting by Oliver Fenwick, which signals the subtle changes of mood on stage.
The sleek and striking design by David Woodhead immediately creates a sense of unease, with its wall of hideously outsized insects mounted in picture frames. Pride of place goes to an enormous wasp which has a particularly nasty way of supplying food for its young – and the parallels to human behaviour gradually become more evident as the action progresses.
The Wasp addresses some of the most raw and heartfelt of female insecurities, while painting a remorseless picture of psychosis. It’s a revenge tragedy which has the audience’s sympathy swinging wildly as it reveals an increasingly dark picture of the past and its legacy for both women.
This is extremely accomplished psychological thriller-writing by Morgan Lloyd Malcolm, with engrossing performances from Buring and Donnelly. It may not be easy viewing, but it is entirely gripping.
• Trafalgar Studios 2, until 16 January 2016
Whitehall, London SW1A 2DY
0333 252 1247