Updated: Oct 29
Treason The Musical is a much-anticipated new show making its World Premiere at the Festival Theatre, Edinburgh. Springing to life as a concept album post-covid, it has gone on to be performed as a concert at London’s Theatre Royal Drury Lane and is now undertaking a four-stop UK Tour, including Sheffield, and finishing off with a run in London’s West End.
The musical tackles a subject that we, as the audience, think we know in Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot and the phrase “Remember, Remember, the 5th of November”. However, this show takes the spotlight away from the figure, instead looking at the group of Catholics led by Robert Catesby and how they took on the ruling Protestant King James and his majority Protestant government in the hope of establishing Catholic rule. Robert Catesby and his conspirators are the real brainchildren of the Gunpower Plot, and you realise that Guy Fawkes was only a part of the story.
Although the act of violence would have led to great tragedy, the show explores the lives of the individuals behind the Gunpowder Plot and why they took such extreme actions to overturn a majority protestant state. The show doesn’t endorse the path these conspirators chose but gives greater context as to what could have led them to take such drastic actions. The execution of Guy Fawkes and the others involved set a powerful message at that time that you cannot go against the King and the Elite and that if you do, there would be severe consequences.
Where this show succeeds is in its casting. Fresh from touring in Dreamgirls, Nicole Raquel Dennis delivers a tremendous performance as Martha Percy, the wife of one of the conspirators, Thomas Percy, performed well by Sam Ferriday. One of the highlights of Nicole’s performance was in the musical number "The Inevitable". Martha here shows how she fears that her husband Thomas has now chosen a path of destruction in joining the Gunpowder Plot and that no amount of prayer can stop him from choosing this route. Joe McFadden delivers a brilliant performance as King James. Joe brings humour at moments, including in the number “The Promise” where King James commits to the Catholics that he will be different from Queen Elisabeth the 1st and treat Catholics more equally. Although not a funny topic, the song shows how much his big ego plays a part in that decision and his belief the English would love him more if the Catholics were treated fairer. He also excels when he must show his more serious and menacing side. The cast, including many West End alumni, delivers strong performances.
Phillip Witcomb’s set and costume design brilliantly transport you to 1600's Britain and is very detailed and enhances the story. It feels dark and mysterious and is perfect for the show's tone, and the use of candles and detailed wooden work gives the staging a realistic period feel. The use of sound effects with the ticking noise at points throughout the piece is very effective and links to both a ticking time bomb and dynamite. These get faster as we get closer to the Gunpowder Plot.
The script could have been clearer. It was occasionally confusing, and unless you were knowledgeable of the state of 1600's Britain before stepping into the theatre, think it is quite a struggle to digest the key points quickly. Some moments help paint this picture throughout the first act with character development songs giving perspective as to why each conspirator is keen for change, the Elite's view on Catholics, and the inner conflicts of King James view on Catholics with advice from his confidant, Robert Cesil however the show doesn't set the scene well enough at the start to take the audience on that journey and make sure everyone is on a similar page. The show’s structure could also be improved with Act One really building up to the Catholic conspirators saying they must orchestrate the Gun Powder plot, and then it takes a while into Act Two before the actual Gunpower Plot occurs, and this is over in a matter of moments.
Ultimately, it is brilliant to see a new British musical on stage. Although many things could be changed and enhanced to improve the story, the performances shine through, and there are powerful musical moments throughout the piece. Treason The Musical has been effective in generating a real buzz. Following on from its Album release, concert, and now the fully staged production, there is an audience for this show and with a few improvements to the story, it could well be Britain’s next big musical.
Reviewer Rating - ☆☆☆
Treason The Musical played at Festival Theatre, Edinburgh. The production will play Sheffield Lyceum as well as London's Alexandra Palace and The London Palladium. For full details visit: https://treasonthemusical.com/