Caro Meets Theatre Interview

Morgan Lloyd Malcolm: The Wasp

By | Published on Tuesday 1 December 2015

Morgan Lloyd Malcolm

Some of you out there may already be aware of the Morgan Lloyd Malcolm’s play ‘The Wasp’ because of a highly successful run at Hampstead Theatre last  year.
If you were not previously aware of it, or were aware of it and didn’t manage to catch it the first time, I’ve got good news for you – the critically acclaimed production, starring MyAnna Buring and Laura Donnelly,  heads to Trafalgar Studios next week.
I was very interested in this production, not least because it offers good strong roles for women, but also because it sounds like it tackles some very interesting, scary and emotive themes. I put some questions to the playwright, to find out more about the piece, and her career thus far.

CM: Without giving too much away, what’s ‘The Wasp’ about? Where does the story begin?
MLM: It’s tricky to talk about it without giving too much away, but broadly it’s about two women who used to know each other at school, and who have a tricky history. It explores how your childhood can form the adult you become, and how we can hold onto past hurt and trauma. It’s about bullying and abuse, but also friendship and kindness. It’s about the impact we all have on the people around us, and being aware of how we affect each other with our words and our actions.

CM: How would you describe the show in terms of genre? What style of theatre is this?
MLM: I would probably best describe it as a thriller, as it has several twists and turns. But like all things in life, it’s hard to really pin down its nature in one easy description. It could also be described as drama with a sprinkling of black comedy.

CM: What inspired you to write this piece? Where did the story come from and what made you want to make it into a play?
MLM: Several things kicked this play off. The first was the opportunity to write a short play for Emma Bettridge for Pulse Festival in Ipswich and Fervent Festival at the Bristol Old Vic. And when I got thinking, I realised I had been mulling over the idea of writing something that two female actors could really get their teeth into. I wanted to write characters that were complicated – both likeable and unlikeable. I wanted to write something that was a challenge to perform – it’s definitely an endurance challenge for our actors! And I wanted to write something that dealt with big themes in a way that gives the audience a good ride!

I also started my thinking with the idea of violence between women, which is something not normally looked at or accepted as a norm. Anyone who experienced teenage life as a girl would tell you that girls can be bloody terrifying – I was drawn to exploring this. It’s the opposite of what we’re taught we’re ‘supposed to be like’ as girls and women and this is exciting to me. And finally, the two characters were based on people I knew – they’ve evolved to be very different to those people now, of course, but their origins were in my past.

CM: It’s always good to see plays focusing on women, given that good parts for women can be dispiritingly few and far between. Did you write this with that in mind, or did this just happen to be a play about women…?
MLM: As mentioned above, I set out to write good, meaty, complicated characters for two women to get their teeth into. I think there are some incredible parts for women being created at the moment in new writing, but I still think there are more to be written. I’ve made it a bit of a mission statement for myself that where possible, I will write plays that are either entirely female or have a dominant female cast list with good roles in them for our female performers.

I feel like this is something I can do as a woman – my stories and instinct are to write the female experience so I should keep doing this for as long as it feels right. There are plenty of others keeping male performers in work, so for now, I feel as though it’s a positive move towards trying to combat the problem of good female parts being in the minority.

CM: Have you been actively involved with this production?
MLM: Well, I was very present in the rehearsal room for the run we did at Hampstead, as it was a new piece of writing so changes and cuts would be coming up regularly. I’ll be less involved for this rehearsal process because the text is pretty much locked down, but my favourite place to be is a rehearsal room, so I’ll be there as much as they will have me!

CM: How and why did you become a writer? Is this what you always wanted to do?
MLM: I wanted to act, and in particular I wanted to do comedy, so writing came from making shows to perform. I was part of a comedy group called Trippplicate and we would take shows to the Edinburgh Fringe and gig in London at sketch nights. We had a lot of fun, but after our fifth show I started really struggling to enjoy performing, and found myself quite terrified of it; I realised that actually what I loved was writing – then I discovered the joy of handing my scripts over to other people to perform and that was that!

I always knew I’d end up in the theatre; my dad was a theatre producer and actor and my mum was an actor and I had always loved that world.

CM: Who has influenced you in your career, and in your writing?
MLM: My parents have been a huge influence. They immersed me in theatre from quite a young age. My dad, Christopher Malcolm, was an actor first, and then became a theatre producer. He was in particular a real champion for new writing, and so he was someone I would also send my plays to for feedback – in fact he was always the first person. When dad passed away my mum took on the mantle, and I still really need that initial opinion from them!

CM: What’s next for you, in the short term and the long term?
MLM: Well I have a nearly four year old and a nearly eight month old so I’ve been spending the last half a year trying to get to grips with the change in logistics from one kid to two, and work has taken a bit of a hit! However, I am working on a stage adaptation of the diaries of Edith Appleton, who was a first world war nurse, and I’m also working on a play for Soho Theatre which came as a result of being on their Soho Six scheme. I’m also working on commissions from Cleanbreak, Hampstead Theatre and the Plymouth Drum.

‘The Wasp’ is on at Trafalgar Studios from 8 Dec – 16 Jan, see this page here for more info and to book tickets.