Alexa Terry reviews Wasted, a new rock ‘n’ roll musical take on the Brontes, now playing at Southwark Playhouse.
12th September 2018
If you are looking for a classical account of the infamous Bronte siblings lives, romanticised like in an old Mills and Boon novel, Carl Miller and Christopher Ash’s ‘Wasted’ isn’t it – and nor is it supposed to be. London’s new rock musical is a refreshing, albeit bum-numbingly long, celebration of diversity and the unconventional – an attitude which made the likes of Charlotte (Natasha Barnes), Emily (Siobhan Athwal), Anne (Molly Lynch) and Branwell Bronte (Matthew Jacobs Morgan) the rebellious and determined mavericks of English history.
It was during their childhood in Haworth where the Brontes’ discovered their love for storytelling. However, not being children of a wealthy family, growing up meant they had duties to earn a living. Despite responsibilities and prejudices, their creativity refused to be stifled and, with their experiences of heartbreak, addiction and near poverty, ideology was defied as the likes of Jayne Eyre, Wuthering Heights and Agnes Grey were written and published under male pseudonyms. ‘Wasted’ writers Miller and Ash say they have created a ‘rockumentary’ as ‘a tribute to (the Brontes’) genre-bending inventiveness.’
‘Wasted’ is infused with Rock n’ Roll which is the perfect fit with the underlying themes it carries. The stage is a small, raised set of wooden slats into which the characters plug wired microphones which later, cleverly, become props. Writing desks are instrument carry cases, an amplification system becomes the pet dog, and the sisters are seen erratically showering the stage with sheet music which represent the pages of their books. Libby Todd’s authentic 19th Century garb is joined in a satisfying oxymoronic marriage with contemporary hairstyles and chipped nail varnish. The design as a whole has, at times, an essence of Spring Awakening to it and, with the characters interacting and head banging with the band (Kat Bax, Isabel Torres, Nathan Gregory and Joe Bunker) it almost feels as if you are at a rock concert.
There are times when the music feels seamless and disjointed. Even though Ash and Miller have produced a handful of beautiful songs (White Violets, In Five Years Time and (Extra) Ordinary Woman in particular being personal favourites) others seem unnecessary. With a soundtrack clocking up 27 numbers, there is room for ruthless cutting. Having said that, ‘Wasted’ is an exciting and challenging project for a vocalist and it certainly puts the spotlight on Molly Lynch’s versatility as she displays both crisp classical soprano and belted contemporary rock. Natasha Barnes is impeccable casting with a refreshing contemporary vibe and is a striking and utterly believable version of Charlotte Bronte. Siobhan Athwal’s Emily is a body-popping, eye-rolling emo which is, for me, a little too intense and stereotypical at times, however, she is the product of a lot of the comedy moments.
With the likes of ‘Six’ currently playing at the Arts Theatre and ‘Lizzie’ which was produced in 2017, ‘Wasted’ fits in to the current West End trend rather snuggly. However, for me, it’s a bit like over-diluted squash: all of the tones and flairs to create something tasty are there, but the real punch is weakened. With a bit of a declutter and brave editing, the Bronte’s inspiring fight could well burst with flavour. Reading the recent announcement that Mary Poppins will be returning to the Prince Edward Theatre next year, not long after the UK tour has ended, I couldn’t help but think: Again? Even though ‘ it’s Mary that we love,’ we need to continue to encourage, nurture and embrace new musical theatre and, at least, ‘Wasted’ lets us do that.
Catch ‘Wasted’ at the Southwark Playhouse until 6th October 2018.