Thursday, September 13, 2018

We have a couple of reviews of the musical Wasted. London Theatre gives it 3 stars, although some of the remarks wouldn't be there is the reviewer had known a little more about the Brontës.
(Picture: Helen Maybanks. Source)
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. (Chris Omaweng)
The Reviews Hub gives it 4 stars out of 5.
If the gentle sounds of Chopin would fit well with the novels of Jane Austen, what would suit the Brontés [sic]? Iron Maiden? The proposition is carried forward in this new musical, telling the story the Bronté siblings and setting it to a pulsating rock score which reflects the harshness of life in Victorian Yorkshire, struggles against poverty and disease and an unforgiving moorland backdrop.
There is already an established link between the Brontés and the rock world and Siobhan Athwal’s  appearance playing Emily, with wild dark hair and eccentric movements, makes a reference to it that seems unlikely to be coincidental. 40 Years ago, when Kate Bush was recording Wuthering Heights, a show like this might have been developed as a concept album and, now in 2018, we could have been seeing a concert performance of that album. Perhaps director Adam Lenson had this thought in mind for his staging, the four performers, dressed in drab period costumes, all using hand-held microphones on a wooden platform with the audience on three sides of them and a four-piece band on the fourth.
Natasha Barnes gives a powerhouse performance as the gritty Charlotte, last survivor of the siblings and narrator of the story. “F*** off, I’m writing Jane Eyre” she yells at Anne, signalling her determination to succeed as a writer. Yet even she is forced to marry a lowly curate, the very thing that she would not allow the heroine of her most famous novel to do. Athwal’s Emily is a brooding, tormented genius who insists “no one must know that Emily Bronté writes anything”. Molly Lynch’s Anne is quieter and more sensible, fretting over the impossibility of finding a husband and thereby escaping the family’s parsonage home in the town of Hawarth [sic]. Their father, curate Patrick Bronté is not seen in the show.
There is comedy and pathos in Matthew Jacobs Morgan’s portrayal of Branwell, the only brother. A failure as an artist, unable to hold down a job, a drunkard and a womaniser, he has sad delusions of grandeur, likening himself to Napoleon. “Branwell Bronté had sisters; who would have known?” he proclaims, seeming to recognise the irony in the words as soon as he speaks them.
Carl Miller’s book and lyrics are more concerned with establishing and developing characters than with driving forward a strong central narrative and each song becomes the heart of an episode in the story. Christopher Ash’s throbbing hard and soft rock score demands a second hearing (bring on that concept album) and, even if some of the singing is uneven, Joe Bunker’s band does full justice to the music, with himself on keyboards, Kat Bax on bass, Nathan Gregory on drums and Isabel Torres on guitars.
[...] Talk of “the tyranny of patriarchal Britain” occurs repeatedly and an overlong ending emphasises the story’s feminist themes, leading into the title song which bemoans lives wasted – Branwell’s obviously, but also, implicitly, those of oppressed and undervalued women everywhere. The songs give the show a thrilling energy and even if this is not yet a fully-formed musical, it is certainly not an evening wasted. (Stephen Bates)
More on stage, as La Vanguardia (Spain) shares the highlights of the theatre season in Navarra.
La siguiente obra que podrán ver los espectadores será 'Jane Eyre' (domingo 25 de noviembre), una ventana a través de la cual Charlotte Bronte, la autora, enseña su visión del mundo. Se trata de una producción del FEI y Teatre Lliure protagonizada por la actriz Ariadna Gil. (Translation)
On Boundless, Arifa Akbar revisits Wuthering Heights in midlife:
I read Wuthering Heights in the summer of 1987. I was 15, in my first year of A’ Levels, and it was a course book that became ‘My Favourite Book’. I lost my original copy, bought several others over the decades, but never re-read it. I am not sure I even remembered the ending; much of the book was a blur after Catherine died and Heathcliff was left bereft. I didn’t pick it up again for 30 years. It simply remained seminal on the strength of that first reading.My school was on the fringes of Hampstead Heath, in North London, and I spent the first term of Lower Sixth lounging on the same spot of grass with my circle of friends, observing other groups of students. Until sixth-form, it had been a girls-only school but now boys joined us for English classes. The girls changed in their presence; they were attentive, flirtatious, knowing just what to say. Where had they learned this? I wondered, feeling quietly cast out from the Sophomoric drama of their parties and drunkenness and thigh-skimming dresses. So I sat on my more temperate heath, navigating the confusing transition into adulthood, and drawing back from the realities of life into the high octane drama of the Yorkshire moors in Wuthering Heights.I certainly wasn’t the first teenager to be beguiled by it and yet it wasn’t just Heathcliff and Cathy’s devastating love story that appealed. My comprehensive school had been fairly multicultural and included many of the girls from the housing estates around Highgate, but almost all of that diversity had emptied out by sixth-form. I became aware of how few students now resembled me and that might have made it easier for me to see the intersections between class, race, gender and power in Wuthering Heights, and how entangled these became in Cathy and Heathcliff’s love. I admired their radical desire to get beneath – to overturn – convention, even if they both paid the price. (Read more)
The New Yorker reviews Ian McEwan's The Cement Garden:
Film adaptations have a way of whitewashing novelists, casting them as the authors of sentimental love stories and triumphant tales of the human spirit. The 1939 version of “Wuthering Heights,” starring a dashing Laurence Olivier as a piteous Heathcliff, was a grand romance, though Emily Brontë’s book reads as a bitter rebuke of love and its power to turn men into monsters. Perhaps the most sanitized contemporary writer is Brontë’s compatriot, Ian McEwan, whose books—“Atonement,” “Enduring Love,” “On Chesil Beach”—tend to become films that only soften the edges of their source material. On the page, McEwan’s characters are darker, subtler, even as they cling to desires that are beyond the spectrum of socially acceptable behavior. (Elaina Patton)
Vox asks five writers about how they go around dressing a character.
Scrunchies aside, stylistic choices have turned so many moments from capital-L Literature into memorable scenes. In Gone With the Wind, Scarlett O’Hara whipped up an iconic gown out of green curtains during the poverty-stricken days of Reconstruction, when she couldn’t afford to purchase a dress. In Jane Eyre, the protagonist refuses to wear the brightly colored silk and satin gowns Mr. Rochester offers her in favor of the drab dresses she feels are more appropriate for her position as a governess. (Hannah Orenstein)
The Independent has an article on how period dramas are not 'utterly incapable of artistry'.
It is assumed, too, that the period drama is pure pageantry, utterly incapable of artistry. Rarely considered is how often the genre’s boundaries have been expanded: from Andrea Arnold’s raw, minimalist adaptation of Wuthering Heights to Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Favourite, which fires up a feverish reimagining of the reign of Queen Anne. (Clarisse Loughrey)
Blogger News Network interviews writer Marty Ambrose.
Who is your favorite author? I’ve had so many fiction authors whom I’ve loved over the years but the work that really has inspired this part of my career is Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys.  It’s both a historical fiction narrative and a revisionist take on Brontë’s Jane Eyre (told from the perspective of Mr. Rochester’s first wife).  Rhys is a “writer’s writer”—lushly descriptive and innovative on every level.  I re-read her books every year and always find something new to intrigue me. (Mayra Calvani)
Papel en blanco (in Spanish) posts about The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. Coincidentally, Rachel Sutcliffe discusses abuse in that novel.


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