Treason is a new musical about the well-known gunpowder plot featuring music by Ricky Allan and book and lyrics by Ricky Allan and Kieran Lynn. Put on hold due to the pandemic, Treason has garnered a global audience following a streamed concert from Cadogan Hall in March 2021 and the release of six tracks on streaming platforms. Now, as part of Theatre Royal Drury Lane’s August concert series, Treason takes to the stage in its live concert stage debut. Since announcing the concert of this “exceptional musical in the making”, it sold out within 2 weeks of going on sale and an additional performance was added, a record for an original new musical!
Treason explores the events leading up to the failed gunpowder plot of 1605. The gunpowder plot was a scheme dreamt up by a group of English Catholic extremists, led by Robert Catesby, to kill the monarch King James I and his entire government by blowing up the Houses of Parliament. Their motivation for the plot was the ongoing oppression under the rule of the Protestant King James and the plotters were hoping that – if they destroyed the government – the King of Spain might step in and help convert the country back to Catholicism. His main co-conspirators were Thomas Percy, John Wright, Tom Winter, and Guy Fawkes. The date for their attack was set for 5th November 1605, but everything began to unravel when an anonymous letter was sent to Lord Monteagle, warning him to avoid the opening of Parliament. Guy Fawkes was caught red-handed guarding 36 barrels of gunpowder, whilst the other plotters fled London to raise an army. Nobody came to their aid, and eventually, they were found and killed for their treason.
For this concert production, Theatre Royal Drury Lane has really pulled out the stops with musical theatre heavy-hitters with Carrie Hope Fletcher (Cinderella, Les Misérables, Heathers, The Addams Family) and Bradley Jaden (Camelot, Les Misérables, Wicked) as Martha and Thomas Percy, Simon-Anthony Rhoden (Hamilton, Kinky Boots) as Robert Catesby, Les Dennis as Robert Cecil, Emilie Louise Israel (Hamilton) as Eleanor Brooksby, Rebecca Lachance (School of Rock, Beautiful- The Carole King Musical) as Anne Vaux, Daniel Boys (The Pirate Queen, Falsettos, Avenue Q) as King James, Cedric Neal (Back To The Future, Motown The Musical, The View Upstairs, Songs For A New World) as Earl of Northumberland, Waylon Jacobs (Hamilton, Memphis) as Jack Wright, Adam Pearce (The Prince of Egypt, Evita, Sunset Boulevard) as Thomas Wintour and Debris Stevenson as Narrator.
All performers give their all with the material and really lean into the story to bring the world of Treason to life. As the doting and long-suffering wife Martha Percy, Carrie Hope Fletcher has many moments to shine including a beautiful duet with her absent husband Thomas entitled Blind Faith, which is perhaps the most memorable song of the score. Likewise, Bradley Jaden’s powerful voice is swoon-worthy as he brings a strong masculine presence to Thomas Percy. As the comedy duo of Treason, Les Dennis as Robert Cecil and Daniel Boys as King James bring a sense of whimsy and fun to an otherwise dramatic evening. Les has fun in the second act with a song entitled Paperwork while Daniel confidently struts about the stage throughout as the camp, dangerous King James we love to hate. As always, Cedric Neal is the epitome of professionalism and his Earl of Northumberland was both compassionate and stern and his vocal, stunning. Simon-Anthony Rhoden gave a subtle yet strong vocal performance as the mourning Robert Catesby while Debris Stevenson performed her own spoken word and rap pieces throughout the evening to link together plot and give the audience a concept of time and place.
Treason focuses on Martha and Tomas Percy and opens as they’re married. After being lied to by the King, Thomas leaves to carry out the plot in London, leaving poor Martha at home. After singing about how much she misses him for 90% of the show, she finally meets him again and we find out it’s been only three weeks since he left and they decide to call the marriage off in a dramatic fashion. The audience doesn’t have the opportunity to learn enough about these characters before they were married to empathise with either which results in a luke-warm reception to their marriage and inevitable breakup.
Unfortunately much can be said about the rest of the characters, we meet Robert Catesby who we learn has just lost his wife which has resulted in him becoming ferocious and dangerous. As an audience, we don’t get to see this side of him so when he appears again in Act Two mourning the loss of his wife in a ballad, it’s hard to empathise with him as we haven’t seen his journey or invested in the character to understand his damage.
Seemingly as almost an afterthought, the woman of the story come into their own towards the end of Act Two. Often erased throughout history, the women were given an imagined pivotal role in dismantling the gun powder plot while battling feelings of turning their husbands in to face certain death. If these characters had been introduced at the start of the show as strong, independent women it would have elevated the plot, created more tension and may not have resulted in Carrie Hope Fletcher’s character pining for her absent husband every time she took the stage in song.
During the article about the creation of Treason in the programme, composer Ricky Allan promised a musical theatre folk score and while some melodies resembled a folk style, overall the music didn’t seem folk enough to make it unique and the musical theatre structures didn’t seem fully formed for the audience to empathise with the characters resulting in a confusing score battling against itself. While Debris Stevenson’s spoken word and rap pieces were strong on their own, this modern-day narration added little to the overall piece and I just found myself comparing the musical to another well-known historical drama played out with rap narration, a camp king and a love story.
Overall Treason was an entertaining evening and I appreciate the hard work that’s gone into getting the show to the Royal Theatre Drury Lane for this concert. However, with some fine-tuning of score, structure, character and plot, I really think the show could be excellent. Not quite the British Hamilton, not quite the folk musical theatre piece the creators advertised, I’d be really interested to see where the show goes next and hope they get the chance to workshop the show further to create a piece of theatre that’s unique, with the explosive plot and empathetic characters audiences were hoping for.
Reviewed by Stuart James