A rock musical about the Brontës seems like a pretty unlikely premise, but luckily writers Carl Miller and Christopher Ash thought it was a cracking idea. Having premiered at London’s Southwark Playhouse in the autumn of 2018, Wasted quickly sold out which lead to the run being extended – which also sold out. As such, it’s wonderful to see the Playhouse now making it available to a wider audience.
Whether or not you’ve read their work, you’ve possibly clocked that the Brontë family had a pretty illustrious heritage but you might not know much more than that. Wasted tells the story of the four Brontë siblings: Charlotte, Emily, Anne and their brother Branwell; of their lives, loves and heartbreak; of an unprepossessing childhood in Yorkshire with little money but plenty of imagination, and an early determination (from the three women at least) that they would write.
It’s only fair to note at this point that this rock musical -despite being staged with suitably atmospheric lighting- doesn’t translate brilliantly to film. With dingy Gothic overtones, the cast of four spend much of the play lit so moodily that it’s difficult to see them on screen. That said, the audience can see more than enough to follow the story.
Set largely in the 1850s, these vocally assured Victorian women are dripping with attitude. Anne (Molly Lynch) is wistful, playful and her solo lament -“There’s No-One to Marry For Miles”- is a delight. Siobhan Athwal‘s Emily is ferociously tormented and vocally majestic, and Matthew Jacobs Morgan shines as their fecklessly optimistic, casually privileged brother Branwell. His writer/painter/flautist serenade is jauntily confident, and his love song to laudanum, suitably dissolute which all makes for great fun.
Finally, Natasha J. Barnes‘ Charlotte: unofficial matriarch, broken by Brussels (though we’re not allowed to talk about it), and forced into marriage with a persistent priest- beautifully captures a writer’s fervent rage over the need to get words on a page. She surely has the best line in the show: “Fu*k off, I’m writing Jane Eyre”, as her sisters entreat her to set the table for dinner. And her vocals in feminist anthem, “(Extra)Ordinary Woman” are glorious.
The whole soundtrack is wonderfully witty, skipping around what is broadly rock as a genre through jazz, into a brilliant opera pastiche when the sisters visit London, and onto a series of confidently complex harmonies that would make for thrilling listening in the theatre proper. All the while, the on-stage band sound like they’re having a ball. Adam Lenson’s direction and a spare but rockstar-worthy set make brilliant use of the intimate space and contribute to an excellent viewing experience.
This is a brilliant show that wrings full feisty value out of the tale of female solidarity and success in an emphatically male-dominated world.
Wasted can be streamed online through Southwark Playhouse’s website here