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Southwark Playhouse, London
WORKING on the premise that the Bronte family of Charlotte, Emily, Branwell and Anne was like a rock band — creatively inspired and tightly arraigned against the outside world, yet inwardly riven with infighting and even a bit of drug-induced dysfunctionality — Wasted chronicles their tribulations through the medium of rock music, with the actors centre stage and a four-piece electric band backing their anguished, dark singing.
It's a defendable and imaginative idea but whether the emphasis on a rock style adds anything to the storytelling is another matter. Possibly it would do so if the plethora of songs by Christopher Ash and Carl Miller were stronger melodically and lyrically — and it would also help if there were a more consistent thread to the music, which spans a confusingly wide spectrum of styles from the Arctic Monkeys to elements of Kate Bush, hip hop and funk.
The rock aesthetic does, at least, impart an extra edginess to the often tense and angry proceedings, which nonetheless are sprinkled with nice points of humour. In the end, the show lives or dies by the quality of its songs rather than the style in which they are delivered, especially as there is little or no music-free dialogue.
That it just about survives is down to the presence of three or four numbers — Stuck in Haworth, White Violets and In Five Years' Time among them — which rise above the general mediocrity of the others.
Whether the material they have to work with is good or bad, the energetic and generally excellent cast members, well directed by Adam Lenson, deliver each offering with commendable feeling and verve. Most eye-catching is Siobhan Athwal, who sometimes overplays her hand as a snarling, feral and deranged Emily and is forced to deliver a ridiculous song about how she is “a goth before her time.”
But the standout force is Natasha Barnes as the strong-willed, determinedly feminist Charlotte, the controlling force in the “band.”
As the writing successes of the three women appear at first to be limited and then tragedy engulfs the Brontes, the final throes of the musical reveal the reason for its title as the family members begin to consider whether their lives have been wasted.
The second half, however, is hard going and, by that point, with almost three hours on the clock, audience fatigue has set in. It's a relief when the end comes, even if that question still hangs in the air unresolved.
Runs until October 6, southwarkplayhouse.co.uk
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