“It all makes for a lively atmosphere, with a cast who seem to be having the time of their lives”
For the uninitiated, it’s worth swotting up before a visit to Fanatical. It deals tenderly with the worlds of cosplay, fandom and sci-fi; come prepared with your Lord of the Rings and Star Wars references brushed up. Be in no doubt: what you sign up for here is a heartfelt love letter to sci-fi and fandoms everywhere.
Fanatical is a musical set amidst the high pressure, high excitement atmosphere of a convention of sci-fi enthusiasts – in this case, ardent supporters of the (fictional, but incredibly fully-realised) world of space comic Angel 8. We too are immersed, brought along as newly adopted fans; gorgeously detailed comic art and digital projections of a really remarkable quality sweep us into the narrative.
A comic convention may seem an odd setting for a musical, but this high-energy cast make it all make sense. So high energy in fact that at times, in the relatively small confines of Latimer Road’s Playground Theatre, the volume and sheer vigour of the music felt somewhat overpowering. Audiences should be prepared for the double earnestness of musical theatre and cosplay (a fan-driven world where enthusiasts craft their own costumes) – indeed, kudos goes to those audience members in their own space-themed outfits.
It all makes for a lively atmosphere, with a cast who seem to be having the time of their lives. Especial note must go to Suanne Braun as Trix, who acts as a linchpin in both character and performance. Her laugh-out-loud rendition of ‘Any Moment Now’ was without question the highlight of the night, as Trix attempts seduction with Miranda-esque levels of awkwardness.
Writers Matt Board and Reina Hardy say in the programme that this show has been a long time in the making. It’s clear, with the attention to detail (our comic characters have animated avatars, theme music, life stories), that Fanatical is the result of a labour of love. Perhaps that love may have added to the occasional loss of discernment. The musical could be shorter and some songs, inevitably, are weaker. Overall there is certainly more filler than killer. Coming Up Next and Self-Aware are some of the toe-tappers, with the latter seeing Tim Rogers as Craig going in for some snarling judgement of the geeks. Similarly the lyrics to the excellent Nobody’s Watching, spat out with relish by Stephen Frost as frustrated writer Scott Furnish, are great fun. As ever, the bad guys get the best songs.
With less accomplished performers, this show might just tip into being an evening of self-indulgent geekery. Strong vocal and acting performances avoid this, and the cast’s abundant enthusiasm carries its audience irresistibly along.
“The punk ethic is there but not authentic enough to make us root for these supposed desperados”
There are many famous people who continue to live with us through their work, none of whom could have known how famous they would become posthumously. Artists such as Vincent Van Gogh and Johannes Vermeer, writers Franz Kafka, Edgar Allen Poe and John Keats, the Italian astronomer Galileo (who had to wait three centuries before his theories were accepted) and even J.S. Bach was little known in his own lifetime.
The creators of “Wasted”, the new musical at Southwark Playhouse, are adding the Brontë sisters to the canon, the title of which suggests that the three sisters and their often overlooked brother never achieved the recognition they sought nor found their true vocation. Hence, they believed their lives were ‘wasted’. We will never know if this was a real concern to the siblings two centuries ago, but the writers here drum home the imagined anxieties with a mixture of teenage angst and prophetic irony.
Part gig and part rock documentary, Christopher Ash’s music and Carl Miller’s book chart the struggles, frustrations and heartbreaks of Charlotte, Emily, Anne and their brother Branwell. A four-piece band form the backdrop while Libby Todd’s effective use of flight cases and sheet music create the set, reinforcing the rock theme. With hand held mics, the strong cast of four are the lead singers, imbued with a New Wave tension as they sing about being “stuck in this dump” and “we want to write”. The punk ethic is there but not authentic enough to make us root for these supposed desperados.
Although the narrative is often a touch too quaint to comfortably sit with the style of the songs, the cast do pull off the numbers with an anarchic self-possession. And you can detect a rock band’s politics permeating the foursome. Natasha Barnes’ Charlotte is pretty much the lead here; the strong contender in control, who goes onto a successful solo career. She does, after all, outlive her sisters. Siobhan Athwal gives Emily the tortured soul treatment; emotional and wayward while Molly Lynch, as Anne, is the quiet one who nevertheless is the one who comes across as the most interesting. Not to be outdone by this feminine trio, Matthew Jacobs Morgan holds his own and, even if historically Branwell fell by the wayside, Morgan certainly keeps up with the girls here.
All four sing exquisitely and they do wonders to shake off the dusty image of the Brontë family. The rock score reminds us how radical and visionary they were, yet the punch is weakened by stretching the point to its limit. And many of the songs are far too long, which does lessen the poignancy and the power of the material. Likewise, Adam Lenson’s dynamic direction is diluted in a show that does overrun its natural course. Some ruthless editing is needed for it to truly echo the characters who lived fast and died young.