Wasp, at UEA’s drama studio, creates an atmosphere of poignancy even as you walk in the room.
The play is staged in the round, with the audience seated looking onto the little wooden stool that forms the extent of the set for the whole piece. As we come in, we are introduced to two of the stars, including the main character, Peter [played by Lucas Fox] – although the parts in Wasp are fairly equally divided, ‘main’ seems accurate to describe Peter, as this is his story – and his girlfriend Leslie [Hannah Wood]. They sit, as do we, listening to Peter sing a song on his guitar, and the story begins.
Wasp is an original production created by UEA alumni Ella Rowdon and Felix Brown. Rowdon also directed the show. The in-the-round seating creates the perfect degree of tension between the audience and the characters, who feel incredibly, movingly real, and who are physically close to us as audience members, making eye-contact with, and even begging questions of us throughout. The discomfort that this sometimes provokes is so fitting with the theme of the play, which is suicide.
It centers on Peter, who has recently died in this way, and his family and friends who are left behind as a result of this action. The whole script takes place in a mind and wellbeing office, with the friends and family being interviewed in a strangely affected, and occasionally even brusque manner about the death of their loved one in order that it might be prevented in the future. The fact that Peter himself is already dead seems at times inconsequential to this line of questioning; the sympathy and condolence never entirely as present as it should be as they try and work Peter’s suicide out as his roommate, Callum [Edward Whitbread], suggests, like ‘a maths equation.’ The play therefore raises more questions than it answers, and the overwhelming and bold idea underlying it is not only ‘are we doing enough to prevent suicide?’, but also ‘can we do enough?’.
This must be an exhausting production to perform in. The characters come in one at a time, and relate their experiences of Peter, and his death to the audience through the frame of the therapist office. This means that much of the time is spent delivering often 20-minute monologues on the most heart-wrenching of subject matter, but the cast is unfaltering: not a line fumbled, nor a tear misplaced. They are each a tour de force from the moment of their arrival on stage, and each has a beautiful chemistry with Peter, and with one another. Fox, as Peter himself, never really leaves the stage, his presence unwavering. His lines are delivered so thoughtfully, and so carefully, that often we get from the tiniest expression, the most nuanced hint of the characters’ mental state. Wood, as Peter’s grieving girlfriend, holds the message of the play in her hands, and explodes onto the stage with teary and self-loathing affection for her late partner. The cast are all masterful, and handle this difficult subject matter with expertise.
Rowdon’s play is difficult to watch. It is honest, and raw and touches on the feelings of love that we have for one another, by addressing the subject of how we lose people. It is a heartfelt exploration of a question that we can never really find an answer to. Like the titular Wasp, this question sits at the center of the action, and eats the characters up from the inside, until they are left with the brutal honesty of a situation like this. It is deeply important viewing, and beautifully achieved.