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Review: Wasted – a new musical about the Brontës | Southwark Playhouse

Molly Lynch, Natasha Barnes, Matthew Jacobs Morgan, Siobhan Athwal
Molly Lynch, Natasha Barnes, Matthew Jacobs Morgan, Siobhan Athwal

Years ago, I was told about a Christmas family gathering in which it was decided, by consensus, that all those present would watch a film before dinner. But for whatever reason, miscellaneous members of the household started to get peckish after only an hour. The youngest of the clan, a prepubescent schoolboy, wanted to know why the film was so long and when it would finally be time to eat. His older sibling said something along the lines of, “Well, it’s not called ‘Batman Forever’ for nothing!

A new show that has twenty-seven musical numbers in it is, in one sense, quite impressive, given the overall tendency to have performances brief enough to dispense with an interval. The satirical musical revue Forbidden Broadway praised Mamma Mia! when it first landed on Broadway, for being the new musical that’s so good it has two acts. But included in the ‘tracklist’ for Wasted are ‘Infinite Eternity’ in the first half, and ‘Infinite Eternity (Reprise)’ in the second, which is what made me think of that anecdote from the late Nineties. This isn’t exactly a tortuous show, but it’s far from perfect.

A four-piece on-stage band performs very well, and with no set (there are some props and costumes) the scene changes are pretty slick. The musicians sing as well as play instruments – while actor-musicianship is fairly commonplace, the musician as an actor is less so: here, the band acts as a sort of chorus at times. Beatboxing and animal noises (don’t ask) are voiced convincingly by drummer Nathan Gregory.

I ought to say something about the show’s title, perhaps not quite the elephant in the room, but the source of some discussion: why call a show about the Brontë siblings Wasted? The show (spoiler alert) seems to suggest it is in the minds of the siblings that they had not, at any given point in their lives, achieved what they set out to achieve, thus their dreams, hopes and desires were ‘wasted’, along with the efforts made between them in writing the likes of Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. It is rather severe, but such thoughts could plausibly have preoccupied them at the time.

The sound balance is good, as are the lighting effects, and the noise levels perhaps a little too quiet for something billed as a rock musical (or perhaps Bat Out of Hell The Musical and Six are too loud?), but nonetheless comfortable. Charlotte (Natasha Barnes) outlives her siblings, and thus gets a couple of songs to herself towards the end of the evening’s proceedings. Emily (Siobhan Athwal) gets more emotional than the rest, Anne (Molly Lynch) came across to me as the most agreeable one, while Branwell (Matthew Jacobs Morgan) continued with his hopes and aspirations long after his ‘I wish’ number, called ‘I Am Gonna Be…’.

The Brontës are, to quote the title of the opening number, ‘Stuck in Haworth’. No, sorry, I cannot agree: Yorkshire people love Yorkshire. Unfortunately, the production didn’t quite regain a good standing with me by the curtain call, but not because of further holes in the plotline. Rather, the sheer repetitiveness of some of the musical numbers meant the show dragged far more than it ought to have done. In the title number, for instance, the word ‘wasted’ was used at least twenty-two times – a very conservative estimate given I only started doing a tally part-way through the song. Whatever for?

Certain verses are rapped, but painfully slowly. I suspect the siblings’ father, the Reverend Patrick Brontë, could probably have recited church liturgy at a faster pace. There is, just about, sufficient variation in terms of style within the musical numbers, though it is telling that the most intriguing and poignant moments were two sections of spoken word towards the end of the show. The narrative just doesn’t fit the recklessness associated with rock and roll – at one point, someone wants to go off and be a governess, and there isn’t a scintilla of even considering going against their father’s instructions regarding a trip to Bridlington. Hardly unrestrained abandon.

A good twenty minutes could be lopped off the running time. The show is never disrespectful, let alone offensive, portraying the Brontës as bold and assertive. It is a pity that the songs, well-performed by a strong cast as they are, are ultimately unmemorable. One could even suggest they might just be a little Wasted.

3 Star Review

Review by Chris Omaweng

Through the lens of a rock documentary, Wasted is a brand new musical that gives an access-all-areas account of the struggles, heartbreaks and triumphs of the three Brontë sisters Charlotte, Emily, Anne, and their brother Branwell. Brought up in a remote, poverty-stricken town in Yorkshire, without money or opportunity, they fought ill health, unrequited love and family feuds to write some of the most celebrated literature including Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights.

Never afraid to rebel against expectations, the lives behind the pages expose a struggling, squabbling, ferociously driven, drug-fuelled crash and burn trajectory from obscurity to celebrity and ultimately to their untimely deaths. Coupled with a rock score from Christopher Ash (Showstoppers – Oliver Award winner for Best Entertainment), book and lyrics by Carl Miller (Emil and the Detectives, National Theatre), directed by Adam Lenson (Superhero), the Brontës ask – was it all wasted?

This is the Brontës as you’ve never seen them before.

Oli Sones and Sally Humphreys Productions present the world premiere of
Music by Christopher Ash. Book and lyrics by Carl Miller. Directed by Adam Lenson.

Siobhan Athwal
Natasha J. Barnes
Matthew Jacobs Morgan
Molly Lynch

Creative Team
Director – Adam Lenson
Music – Christopher Ash
Book and Lyrics – Carl Miller
Musical Director – Joe Bunker
Set & Costume Design – Libby Todd
Movement Director – Natasha Harrison
Lighting Designer – Matt Daw
Sound Designer – Mike Thacker
Associate Director – Grace Taylor

Listings Information
Southwark Playhouse
77-85 Newington Causeway
London SE1 6BD
Thursday, 6 September – Saturday 6 October 2018

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