This musical has been on my radar for a little while. Having started its life with a 5-track EP featuring Rosalie Craig and Hadley Fraser in 2020, it’s gone on a huge journey of development, including a concert version at Theatre Royal Drury Lane last year and further workshops since. The likes of Carrie Hope Fletcher, Lucie Jones, and Les Dennis have all been involved at various points, so I was certainly very intrigued by a new musical whose marketing material claims it to be the ‘British Hamilton’. And whilst the show is certainly very well produced, with a phenomenally talented cast, I’m not sure that the final product quite succeeds in doing what it’s hoping to do.
The story is a little tricky to describe, but essentially sets itself up as the story of Guy Fawkes and the gunpowder plot, as we’re introduced to Fawkes himself (Gabriel Akamo) who acts as a sort of narrator throughout the show. The story however doesn’t so much focus on Fawkes as it does Thomas Percy (Sam Ferriday) – who seemed to be the ringleader of the plotting group – and his relationship with Martha Wright (Nicole Raquel Dennis), as the group come up with their plan to kill the newly appointed James I (Joe McFadden). Beyond the setup, it’s really quite challenging to follow what’s actually happening, and several overheard conversations in the interval confirm this for me on Press Night. I’ll be the first to admit I’m not too hot on my history, and it feels like you need to be quite an expert on the story and who each of the characters is in order to follow what’s actually going on. The book is perhaps trying to do too much, and could do with spending more time setting up the characters before jumping ahead with the intricacies of their stories. Hamilton (if we are going to make the comparison, as they seemingly want us to do!) has literally an entire song introducing you to the Schuyler Sisters before moving any further, and I think a little more exposition would really help with the clarity of the storytelling in this.
Luckily, the performances from the whole cast are pretty incredible. Dennis’s vocal performance is phenomenal, and Emilie Louise Israel (Anne Vaux) practically steals the show anytime she’s on stage. She does a wonderful job at embracing the nuances of her character, and finding the layers within each of the lyrics. When they both sing together in the second act’s ‘Caught in the Crossfire’ it’s really quite breathtaking. Likewise, Ferriday has a gorgeous singing voice, and I’m sure would kill it in a role like Valjean or Phantom. There are some strong supporting performances too from McFadden, Oscar Conlon-Morrey and Connor Jones, as Robert Cecil and Robert Catesby, respectively. Conlon-Morrey provides some great villainous comedy with excellent timing.
From a production perspective, it’s visually stunning. Set and Costume designer Philip Witcomb creates a backdrop of dark, vertical wooden boards, lit by dozens of flickering candles, with lighting in Jason Tylor’s design often bleeding through the cracks, and flat pieces effectively moved in and out of scenes to seamlessly create a more claustrophobic, interior setting. Witcomb’s set is beautifully married with Tylor’s design, creating hazy, purple evenings in one moment, and then brightening the atmosphere, or at other times casting the ensemble into silhouette. Likewise, Tom Marshall’s sound design is really standout in this production, with crisp ticking clock sound effects, or the thud of a large, echoey door. All these elements are hugely sophisticated and brought together wonderfully in Hannah Chissick’s production.
It’s hard to pin down how much is the material and how much is the direction, but the pacing feels a bit off, unfortunately. There are large swathes of time where not a lot seems to happen, on occasion just one ballad after another which doesn’t really advance the plot or character, and then really key moments that happen in a flash. I think Charli Eglinton (Book) and Ricky Allan (Music and Lyrics) probably want to focus more on the build-up than the events themselves of November 5th, and there’s excellent promise in this, but further development is needed really to pack the emotional punch and clarify the storytelling, with less jumping around, especially in the first act.
Allan’s music is a mix of folk sounds and pop, with a bit of rap thrown in as well for Fawkes. There are some beautifully sounding moments, and huge praise particularly to Matthew Malone’s orchestrations. The soundtrack had already gained a huge fanbase from the EP and concert version staged last year, and you can definitely tell why. The blend of genres doesn’t always work, particularly the rap elements which feel a bit disjointed from the rest of it, and a few of the ballads feel particularly repetitive with their melodies. But the folky, string instruments, in particular, are used to great effect, especially in the earlier numbers.
Overall, it feels like a superbly produced production of material that needs quite a bit more work. I have a hunch it’s very likely to do well with particular musical theatre fans, especially anyone keen on their history. But I think for anyone not super knowledgeable on the ins and outs of the gunpowder plot, you just end up feeling quite lost.
Review by Joseph Dunitz
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