As I sat down to watch the Southwark Playhouse’s newest production I couldn’t help but feel rather ‘cool’. Normal theatre goers hang out in the West End, but here, just a stone’s throw away from Elephant and Castle, is where the cool ones go. Perhaps it was the relatively young audience, the four piece band or just that I knew I was about to watch a rock musical. With a cast of just four performers, Wasted is a new rock musical based on the lives of the Brontë sisters (and their oft forgotten brother, Branwell) and their rise to fame (or lack off).
Perhaps it was press night nerves, but opening songs ‘Stuck in Haworth’ and ‘Tiny Magazines’ lacked in energy and many of the lyrics simply weren’t heard. I was left feeling like I’d been rushed through an opening with the result being slight confusion and a sense of distance from the action.
It wasn’t until Matthew Jacobs Morgan (as Branwell), with his smooth and soulful voice, sang ‘I Am Gonna Be…’ that I felt the energy of the production drastically lifted, and I could fully comprehend what was happening. Morgan’s overall portrayal of Branwell Brontë, a self-confessed genius who hasn’t quite figured out what he is good at, is gentle and at times heart-breaking, gaining sympathy from the audience at many points in the show, particularly during ‘Paint Myself In’.
Although it’s easy to just think of the Brontë sisters as one entity, Wasted gives each sister a personality and an identity, and the most clear of these is Emily. Played by Siobhan Athwal as a sort of Kate-Bush-goth-before-her-time-nature-fanatic, Emily is usually the cause of the most audience laughter during her scenes. Although the wild woman cliché at times becomes a bit overdramatic, the major problem with Athwal’s otherwise strong portrayal of Emily is her diction. Athwal has many lovely songs, including ‘My Soulmate’ (an ode to her dog), but apart from a couple of lines, most of the time it is very hard to understand what she is saying. This decision by director Adam Lenson is perhaps the biggest problem of the show, as during all of Athwal’s solo numbers as Emily, I felt myself and those around me detatching from the action. Athwal is clearly a talented singer and actress, so it is a shame that we only get to enjoy short moments of this; throughout the show she briefly plays minor side characters and when doing this, her diction is perfect.
Molly Lynch gives a strong and believable performance as Anne, a religious woman desperate to find someone to marry. The star of the show however is Natasha Barnes. As Charlotte Brontë she leads the show in the way that an older sibling guides her younger wayward siblings. Perhaps it is just the lyrical and musical quality of her solo songs, but they seem to be the best received by the audience, in particular ‘(Extra) Ordinary Woman’. There are 27 songs in the show in total, so the stamina of all four actors has to be commended, as most of the songs require heavy rock vocals.
Carl Miller and Chris Ash’s decision to have the Brontë siblings be a rock band is a bold one, which at times isn’t always pulled off; there are certain moments where I felt the rock genre was somewhat constraining. However, overall, Wasted is full of potential, and with a few tweaks here and there could change from a good show to a great one.
Wasted is playing at the Southwark Playhouse until 6 October. For more information and tickets, click here.