A new musical that has received a lot of coverage in recent years is Treason, which is based on the gunpowder plot of 1605. It started out as a virtual concert during lockdown, before being developed into a staged concert at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane in 2022 and then a full length touring show in Autumn this year. I managed to grab a £25 ticket to the final performance of the tour at the London Palladium and it is possibly the most conflicted I have been about a production in a long time. With a powerful soundtrack and impressive cast performances, the production is held back by a disconnected narrative and underdeveloped theming, which in turn prevent it from being the next must-see British musical.
Background and synopsis
Charli Eglinton and Kieran Lynn’s musical is a dramatisation of the events leading up to the failed gunpowder plot of the 17th century, focusing on the perpetrators and their loved ones. With direction by Hannah Chissick and music and lyrics by Ricky Allan, Treason centres on Martha and Thomas Percy (Nicole Raquel Dennis and Sam Ferriday) and the show opens with their secret marriage during the English Reformation.
For someone who knew very little about the plot in advance of the show, I quickly managed to pick up the historical background and context of the material. It covers the mistreatment of the Catholic population, the scheming and the treacherous group’s eventual capture. It is set to a powerful score with hip hop inspired sections and revolutionary ensemble numbers, telling the tale of the plotters through just over 2 hours of theatre (excluding an interval).
Structure and narrative
Guy Fawkes (Gabriel Akamo) is the narrator of the story, acting as an almost immortal figure. I struggled to understand why he was presented in this way, disconnected from the core plot. With the vigour of the production, I possibly missed the earlier context but it was a little odd to hear about the early beginnings of the conspirators and not include Fawkes.
The character also speaks in a poetic, almost rhythmic style. Whilst it is in tune with the hip hop genre, the fast pacing allows the language to get lost and I found myself struggling to follow everything that was being said. A slower and more stripped back approach to the narration would have been easier to digest.
Choreography and hip hop theming
That being said, the underlying hip hop theme felt underdone. I haven’t watched Lin Manuel Miranda’s smash hit musical yet, but from the Hamilton clips I have seen, the genre runs through the production’s veins. Treason leans into the theming in places, but never feels like it fully commits, making it difficult to get behind the musical numbers and choreography that are staged in this way by Taylor Walker.
Strength in simplicity
For me, the show’s strength lies in its simpler musical numbers, specifically with Martha and James Percy sharing their feelings through song and the plotters preparing to fight. The stellar cast performances, simplistic 17th century set and impressive music alone are more than enough to take over the Palladium. The production doesn’t need all of the sharp choreography and rhythmic sections which are associated with the hip hop theming. Treason has its own unique identity in its score and varied soundtrack, which sets it apart from other politically-focused musicals. It doesn’t need to follow tried and tested formulas that have come before.
Vocally Sam Ferriday (Thomas Percy) and Nicole Raquel Dennis (Martha Percy) are absolutely exceptional. Their passionate duets were the highlight of the show for me, with their voices travelling all around the iconic venue.
Joe McFadden was also fantastic as King James, portraying the eccentric character with ease and humour. He was joined by the charismatic Oscar Conlon-Morrey as Robert Cecil in a minor part. I wish there had been more of a chance to see Cecil’s manipulative side, as Oscar is such a fantastic performer and we only got a taste of what he can do.
It goes without saying that Treason the Musical has really captured the drama of the historical period it is based on. It also features an exceptional cast, who bring Allan’s songs to life with conviction. Unfortunately the book, narrative and theming need some work for the production to stand out against other fiercely strong politically-themed musicals in the West End. I believe it can get there with amendments and hope to see the show return to London.
Thanks for reading my blog today.
Love Kat xxxx