In March 2021 I watched a one-hour concert version of Treason The Musical online. Now just over two years later, the fully formed musical has completed its journey and arrived at the cavernous Alexandra Palace Theatre opening just a few days after November 5th and the musical opens with “Remember, remember the 5th of November, gunpowder treason and plot”.
Treason The Musical tells the story of the plot to blow up King James I in 1605 at the state opening of parliament by a group of disgruntled English Catholics led by Robert Catesby and including the infamous Guy Fawkes (more of him later). As everyone knows, the plot was foiled and the conspirators were either killed whilst fleeing or executed.
Over four hundred years later, we still celebrate the event every year with fireworks. However, these days you’re more likely to see an effigy of a current politician thrown on the bonfire, than Guy Fawkes and “penny for the guy” is a long-gone tradition so to take its place, we now have Treason The Musical. With music and lyrics by Ricky Allan (additional lyrics from Debris Stevenson and Kieran Lynn) and book by Charli Eglinton (along with Lynn) and additional material by Debris Stevenson.
One problem with Treason The Musical, is that it’s a bit old-fashioned – more Les Mis than Hamilton. Although set over a hundred years earlier than Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hip-hop/rap masterpiece, there are historical similarities but, the overall feel and the number of big ballads, make it a little clunky and missing some lightness of touch. There’s a lot of singing out at the audience of these power ballads which means there’s not much connection between the characters as they have to belt out these big songs facing the audience and not their fellow performers.
Another problem is there’s a lot of exposition and explanation between the songs which should advance the plot but don’t. Surprisingly the person most of us would think would be part of the actual gunpowder plot would be Guy Fawkes but here he’s the narrator billed just as Fawkes. Played by Gabriel Akamo who with his almost waist-length hair looms over the proceedings as a demonic presence which isn’t surprising as he’s the character we’ve been demonising since 1605. He towers over everyone as Akamo is very, very tall and wears a typical hat of the time that makes him even taller and his basso profundo voice booms out as he explains what’s happening in what might be modern rhyming couplets (possibly written by Stevenson who is part of the grime scene) but at times it’s difficult to hear exactly what he’s saying. And there’s a lot happening. Apart from the actual plot, the seven-strong ensemble are on stage a lot of the time doing odd interpretive dance which morphs into them moving props such as chairs, tables and thrones on and off stage.
I said in my review of the early concert version: It will be interesting to see how the piece develops going forward – let’s just hope that the fully staged version has a bit more light and shade to give it an extra dimension. Unfortunately, the finished version still doesn’t have enough light and shade – it’s all too big and bombastic. However, what saves the evening is some wonderful singing from the main performers. Sam Ferriday as Thomas Percy has a lot of big ballads to sing and has a superb voice as does Nicole Raquel Dennis as his wife Martha brings some real tenderness to the role, especially in the second act. Connor Jones is also very powerful as Robert Catesby. Emilie Louise Israel has an almost gospel feel to her voice and her duet with Dennis is a delight. Strictly Come Dancing winner Joe McFadden is underused as King James and surprisingly doesn’t get to dance! He has a couple of interesting scenes with his right-hand man Robert Cecil played by Oscar Conlon-Morrey.
Treason The Musical is big, bold and monumental but if that sounds like your kind of musical, then it’s worth a trip up the hill to Alexander Palace which itself is big, bold and monumental.
Review by Alan Fitter
Treason is the new musical drama about the notorious gunpowder plot of 1605, set to completely blow you away with stunning original folk and pop songs, audiences will be engrossed by one of the most intriguing tales in Britain’s history as it’s never been seen before.
Nicole Raquel Dennis (They/She) Martha Percy
Joe McFadden (He/Him) King James
Gabriel Akamo (He/Him) Guy Fawkes
Oscar Conlon-Morrey (He/Him) Robert Cecil
Kyle Cox (He/Him) Jack Wright
Lewis Edgar (He/Him) Little Wintour
Sam Ferriday (He/Him) Thomas Percy
Emilie Louise Israel (She/Her) Anne Vaux
Connor Jones (He/Him) Robert Catesby
Alfie Richards (He/Him) Big Wintour.
“The Eyes” – Ensemble:
Femi Akinfolarin (He/Him), Filippo Coffano (He/Him), Megan Curley (She/Her), Elèna Gyasi (She/Her), Naomi Katiyo (She/Her), Louis Makrodt (He/Him) and Dan Gill (He/Him).
Creator Ricky Allan, Director: Hannah Chissick, Choreographer: Taylor Walker, Musical Supervisor and Musical Director: Nick Pinchbeck, Designer: Philip Witcomb, Lighting Designer: Jason Taylor, Sound Designer: Tom Marshall, Casting Director: Harry Blumenau CDA, Orchestrator: Matthew Malone, Production Manager: John Rowland, Company Stage Manager: Luciano Macis, Associate Orchestrator & Copyist: Fran Warren, Assistant Musical Director: Siân Campbell, Musicians Fixer: Oli Briant, Casting Assistant: Laura Seaborn