'Treason' review – strong vocals elevate this new historical musical about the Gunpowder Plot

Read our two-star review of Treason, starring Sam Ferriday and Nicole Raquel Dennis, now in performances at Alexandra Palace to 18 November.

Julia Rank
Julia Rank

In three years, Ricky Allan’s Treason The Musical has taken the form of a five-track concept album, a streamed one-act performance during the pandemic, various workshops, and a concert at Theatre Royal Dury Lane.

Alumni from various incarnations include Rosalie Craig, Lucie Jones, Carrie Hope Fletcher, Bradley Jaden and Cedric Neal. Yet coming to the full-scale production with no prior knowledge, what’s most remarkable is how this show manages to make the Gunpowder Plot so soporific.

In 1603, it’s expected that Queen Elizabeth’s successor, James VI of Scotland/I of England, will implement a win-win situation in which he grants official tolerance towards Catholics, gaining their loyalty in return.

Thomas Percy (Sam Ferriday) marries Martha Wright (Nicole Raquel Dennis) in a secret Catholic ceremony and they look forward to a brighter future for their children. The central theme of religious discord calls to mind Boublil and Schonberg’s Martin Guerre, another famously troubled and reworked musical.

Allan is a capable balladeer but there are so many ballads that feel like placeholders and Hannah Chissick’s unvaried production stages them back-to-back, snuffing out any momentum that might allow the story to develop. The folksiness of the opening wedding sequence is the most effective part of the show, and a court masque number has a touch of Gilbert and Sullivan about it.

The slipshod book by Charli Eglinton with Kieran Lynn requires a great deal of prior knowledge about the historical context as there’s so little character development or exploration of the various relationships. The other plotters – Robert Catesby (Connor Jones), Jack Wright (Kyle Cox) and Robin Wintour (Alfie Richards) – have no personality or backstory, so there’s no reason we should care about their eventual fates.

Guy Fawkes himself (Gabriel Akamo) is detached from the proceedings, providing commentary in (frequently inaudible) rapped intervals. The muddled tone is exemplified by the way in which it’s uncertain whether King James (Joe McFadden) is supposed to be a comic figure or more nuanced. The rich-voiced Oscar Conlan-Murray, however, makes the most of his turn as power-behind-the-throne Robert Cecil.

The strong vocals go some way to elevating the material. A highlight is the duet that Dennis shares with Emilie Louise Israel as Anne Vaux, who appears to have been a remarkable woman who could well be the protagonist in another show.

This story could be so haunting at the Alexandra Palace Theatre – which must be one of the most ghost-filled venues in the country – and it's visually atmospheric. Philip Whitcomb’s set comprises slatted wooden house fronts through which Jason Taylor’s candlelight (LEDs this time; Ally Pally has had enough fire-related problems over the years) glows.

It’s admirable that the show has had such a public development period and has taken advantage of this to build a following (workshops do seem to be becoming more public affairs). But this production, alas, is a damp squib.

Treason is at Alexandra palace through 18 November. Book Treason tickets on London Theatre.

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Photo credit: Treason (Photo by Danny Kaan)

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