Maintaining an enviable record of attracting superior acting talent, the Hampstead Downstairs brings Dame-in-the-making Sinéad Matthews back to the stage alongside MyAnna Buring in The Wasp, a new two-hander from Morgan Lloyd Malcolm that casts a disturbing light over the legacy of our school days and how we can let them shape us for years into the future. I am convinced that we will be talking about Matthews in 40 years time in the way we talk about Judi Dench and Maggie Smith now so it is always exciting to get to see her work, especially in such intimate surroundings as these.
The Wasp sees her take on the role of Heather, a well-to-do married woman struggling to conceive who makes contact with old school chum Carla, significantly less well-off and expecting her fifth child, after tracking her down on Facebook. Although close as kids, high school saw them drift into different social groups and let bullying tendencies take over, so it isn’t immediately apparent why Heather has made contact after so long. Cheating husbands and surrogate pregnancies seem to be on the table but when a bag full of money and an even stranger proposition spills forth, the first of many twists kicks in.
Tom Attenborough’s production generates a crackling sense of electricity that percolates throughout the show, imbuing what could have been quite static scenes with the transformative energy that makes Lloyd Malcolm’s writing really pop. Bittersweet reminiscences, sharply comic observations, rug-pulling revelations, Matthews flits and fizzes with a careless and carefree abandon in Heather’s increasingly twisted world and Buring contrasts well, a more grounded presence perhaps but no less compelling in what ought to be another success for this always interesting of venues.