“it grips its audience immediately and has us on the edge of our seats”
It’s a Saturday night in April and Anthony is in a flat with eight or so other men that he doesn’t remember the names of. They have been going for eighteen hours – they’re high but not as high as they’ll be by the 36th hour or the 72nd. The twenty minute taxi ride to this flat was enough to start the sound in Anthony’s head, a sound that begins with ticking and then overwhelms. This is what he takes the drugs for to stop hearing. Also to feel his body moving from bone to cartilage. But tonight’s trip holds a surprise. The ghost of George, a young man and former flame of Anthony’s walks across his vision. His body was found the day before on the Tumulus, Hampstead Heath. The police said it was an overdose, that it isn’t even worth investigating. George, in ghost form, tells Anthony he has been murdered. George makes a deal with Anthony. Find my necklace and with it the killer, and I’ll stop the sound in your head. So our thriller begins.
The narrative, written by Christopher Adams, is funny at times, darkly awful at others. The thriller genre is a really original way to investigate the dark underside of the gay chemsex culture, and the dismissive police response to the death of young gay men in a society riddled with homophobia.
Ciaran Owens delivers a strong and convincing Anthony, playful and desperate and driven by something beyond his control. He is joined by Ian Hallard and Harry Lister Smith who create the many characters Anthony meets along his journey. Lister Smith embodies the young boys who go from lovers to victims, and Hallard competently alternates between cheery dog walkers, sinister villains and therapists, all ably directed by Matt Steinberg.
Both Hallard and Lister Smith, in their various guises, wear microphones that echo and distort their voices and lend them a disconcerting plurality. They create a soundscape of audio through objects held against microphones, reminiscent of a radio play made visible (sound design by Nick Manning). Set design (Alison Neighbour) is simple and effective, and Anthony paints the picture for us, making the table and cabinets chameleons in the space.
It isn’t a perfect production – there are moments that feel clumsy and unpolished – but it grips its audience immediately and has us on the edge of our seats, rooting for Anthony’s mission and, in turn, for George and the queer men, murdered but dismissed by the police, that he represents.
“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.