Music

'Wasted' the musical shows why the Brontës rocked

The Brontës get the Hamilton treatment in an exhilarating new musical

A musical, based on the untold story of famous historical figures, set to a modern soundtrack and delivered by a diverse cast. Wasted – an edgy new rock show based on the lives of Brontë sisters Charlotte, Emily, Anne and their brother Branwell – takes the best of Hamilton, but goes in its own, very British direction.

Whereas Hamilton uses rap, hip-hop, and R&B to explore the birth of a nation, here rock music fits the Brontë family’s saga astonishingly well. It’s the authors of Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights as we’ve never seen them; a drug-fuelled crash and burn story from obscurity to celebrity to their untimely deaths. There’s not a bonnet in sight.

They didn’t care what anyone thought of them

Wasted is still set in the 19th Century, but it’s through the lens of a rock documentary, playing with the recognisable beats in those films. There’s the poor upbringing, ill-health, unrequited love and family feuds. “The tragic genius didn’t start with Amy Winehouse, or Elvis Presley or Jeff Buckley,” says Natasha Barnes, who plays Charlotte Brontë.

Adam Lenson, the show’s director, expands: “They played against everyone’s preconception of what women from that time and place should be doing. These were amazing, rebellious, feminist miracle workers who wrote these extraordinary things. Their writing was so imaginative and so ahead of its time, and when the world said they weren’t interested, they wrote more. They didn’t care what anyone thought of them.”

This story might live in the 1800s, but its tale of gender politics acutely resonates with today’s social movements. Likewise, the diverse ethnicity of its cast is in sharp contrast to the all-white world typically seen in most Bronte productions.

“I think it’s important that anyone sitting in the theatre can see themselves on stage,” says Adam. “This is about young people being fearless and being creative in spite of the many adversities that stand in their way. It was really important to us that people felt they were represented when watching it. It shouldn’t feel alien to them or fusty or historical.”

The Brontës died thinking that their lives had been wasted

But what about the show’s evocative title? Adam explains: “It has many meanings within the context of the show. But one of the key thoughts is the Brontës died thinking that their lives had been wasted. They died believing they had amounted to absolutely nothing, no one cared about them and no one would remember them.

“But 200 years later, we’re still reading their books. So, the title is a kind of saying what does ‘waste’ even mean? We might think that we’re wasting our lives, but actually, if you keep going, it might mean something, even if you don’t expect it.”

Charlotte Brontë once famously said: ‘I am not an angel, and I will not be one till I die: I will be myself.’ Although her sister Emily puts that lofty sentiment far more succinctly during one song here – a line that’s sure to be quoted by students studying the Brontë books for generations to come: ‘I am a goth before my time.’

Image: Wasted

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