BWW Review: WASTED, Southwark Playhouse
Lin-Manuel Miranda's smash hit Hamilton decisively set off a new resurgence of stage retellings of history; after the newly opened Six (now at the Arts Theatre, written by Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss), Christopher Ash and Carl Miller's rockumentary Wasted takes a good look at the achievements and heartbreaks of the Brontë siblings. The lives of Charlotte (Natasha Barnes), Emily (Siobhan Athwal), Anne (Molly Lynch), and Branwell (Matthew Jacob Morgan) are turned into a headbanging rock musical complete with smoke and strobe lights.
The audience get to learn first-hand the hardships of Yorkshire in early 19th Century. The characters sing about their dreams and obligations with a smirk, moulding together lighter matters and somber tones. From defying the patriarchy to accepting the inevitability of death, the Brontës are presented in all their bizarreness and peculiarities.
Barnes exudes confidence but isn't afraid to show her flaws when Charlotte becomes controlling; even though Morgan's Branwell means well, he is cocky and brash while he briefly stands in the way of his sisters' dreams; Anne's caring but tough attitude is conveyed by Lynch in heartfelt tones; and Athwal's bearing recalls Helena Bonham Carter's Bellatrix Lestrange.
Music is at the centre of the scene throughout the show: every letter and prop is related to it, from sheet music to all the padded aluminium cases they use as props. As they enter, the actors plug in their microphones to the outlets in the middle of Libby Todd's wooden stage, a large square made out of wooden planks.
The lighting design by Matt Daw and Sam Waddington is focused and gives the already energetic vibe the last spur of stamina. A live four-piece band plays at the back, removed from the action but part of it nonetheless. Power ballads are scattered around a tireless and catchy score.
Ash's music and Miller's lyrics marry together well, projecting each Brontë's singular style through their songs. They build a well-rounded hymn to writing and perseverance in adversity, elevating the writers to examples by showing the (obviously dramatised) reality behind the wordsmiths. Essentially, Wasted is an anthem of independence and creativity while simultaneously pays its humble respects to struggle and hard times.
Photo credit: Helen Maybanks