Review by Daz Gale
When it comes to new musicals, Treason has been plotting for years, waiting for the perfect moment to make their fully staged debut. After a long road, the fuse has been lit and they have now exploded on to the London stage at Alexandra Palace as part of a UK tour with their West End debut just weeks away. The journey for this show hasn’t always been smooth but a lot of care consideration and patience has been taken to ensure this latest version pushes the plot further than it has been before. Would they have managed to pull it off this time, giving us all the fireworks we deserve or would it be a show I wouldn’t remember remember?
Recounting the story of the Gunpowder Plot where a plan was made to blow up on the House of Lords on some day in November 1605 (I forget which), Treason first appeared as an EP of songs in 2020, increasing its audience with a streamed concert during the third lockdown in 2021. It made its stage debut with a concert at Theatre Royal Drury Lane last year and now is ready for the next stage of its development with this fully staged debut. I have been an avid follower of this show on every step of its journey, calling it “the British Hamilton” in 2021, but commenting that it still needed some work with my concert review last year. You may have already clocked the star rating at the top – I’m sorry to say, the work still needs to be done.
The strongest element of Treason has always been its music, and that is something that hasn’t changed. The collection of songs from Ricky Allan is what ignited interest in this project initially and these songs still sound as glorious as they are performed on stage where they were intended. The songs are consistently impressive with highlights including ‘The Cold, Hard, Ground’, ‘Blind Faith’ and the undoubted standout ‘The Inevitable’. Performed exquisitely by a striking cast (more on that shortly), the high quality of the music is what makes the shortcomings of this show so frustrating as the quality never quite matches.
With a new book by Charli Eglington piecing together elements from Kieran Lynn’s original book, a more cohesive story has been attempted and works to an extent. You can clearly see the intent with the new book and the writing in itself is perfectly acceptable in its current form. It also, ironically enough, fails to convey the actual plot of the show, throwing in various strands that come and go sporadically, never quite feeling as fleshed out as they should be. This is most noticeable when it comes to characterisations, particularly of the women in the show who had previously had a key part in the story and now feel more of an afterthought, despite them getting the lions share of the biggest musical numbers. The problem is it doesn’t blend with the music, leaving a show that feels quite varied – at times reminiscent of pick and mix as various elements are thrown together in a way that fails to work.
This is a common theme across Treason when it comes to its production value, Every aspect in its own right may be perfectly fine being judged on its own accord, but when thrown together with the other elements it becomes clear how incohesive and inconsistent it is. It becomes apparent that multiple visions of what Treason should look like on the stage have been considered and elements from multiple visions have been thrown together in a production that is disappointingly messy. Taylor Walker’s choreography, for example, impresses in its execution but feels like it belongs to a different show altogether and jars when dance numbers explode in a baffling way, detracting from the otherwise faultless music. Philip Witcomb’s set and costume design is fairly decent though the reliance of dim lighting does make the action tricky to see and did not work in a setting such as Alexandra Palace.
The problem with Treason is it hasn’t yet found its identity, with elements of Hamilton still prominent though slightly toned down from last years iteration which felt like it has veered too close to that blueprint. The problem is we already have a Hamilton, what can Treason bring to the table to make it set itself apart from that? The most criminal aspect of this production which truly made the wheels come off, I’m sorry to say, was in the direction. A true missed opportunity, it fails to maximise on the impact throughout the show, leaving moments that should be emotional or powerful falling completely flat. Prolonged silences are inexplicably heightened throughout the piece which loses all tension and leads to a real pacing problem, particularly during the show’s wildly problematic first act. Things improve very slightly as the show progresses, but the sense I get is the director had a completely different vision of the show or didn’t understand what was trying to be achieved which has resulted in an iteration of the show that I believe wasn’t ready to be seen by the public.
Despite these severe flaws, Treason has a strength in its armor in the form of its wonderful cast. Sam Ferriday delights as Thomas Percy, but it is the role of his wife Martha that truly blows things up as Nicole Raquel Dennis once again proves why they are oneof the most exciting young talents we have in musical theatre at the moment. Showcasing their awe-inspiring vocals on numbers ‘The Inevitable’ and ‘Blind Faith’, it makes the show's failings more frustrating as their character all but disappears for huge chunks at a time, particularly in the show's first act, in a character that doesn’t feel quite as fleshed out as it should be, through no fault of their own.
Joe McFadden gives a solid portrayal of King James in a character that has suffered through rewrites as the tone of how he should be portrayed has never quite been found as yet. His right-hand man Robert Cecil is played by the reliably fabulous Oscar Conlon-Morrey who could , save a sinking ship with his magnificence and unrivalled stage presence, so it is disappointing how underused this character is throughout as he effortlessly lights up the stage on the brief moments he appears in. Gabriel Akamo is captivating as he narrates the action as Fawkes, though his appearance in the actual story is non-existent until one climactic scene, which feels unsatisfying to say the least. Though her character is drastically underwritten, Emilie Louise Israel showcases beautiful vocals as Anne Vaux, while Connor Jones, Kyle Cox, and Lewis Edgar also deliver consistently impressive performances despite the limited characterisations they have been given.
I can honestly say I have never willed a show to succeed as much as I have on Treason, nor have I experienced such a soul-destroying gut punch of a reaction as I had while watching this production play out. I have had blind faith in the capabilities of this show since the beginning and have longed for it to realise its full potential with a well-rounded production worthy of the dynamite musical numbers, but this version is not the one. It does feel like I too am committing treason for writing a review like this, given what my first thoughts on the potential of this show were nearly 3 years ago now. What I will say is I have great admiration for the team behind this show in how openly they have developed the show in front of the public - their ability to make changes based on feedback and continue their attempts to successfully cause this show to blow up will earn them my perpetual support. However, these attempts this time around have caused the show to blow up in a completely different way in a production that fizzled out and failed to ignite.
Treason plays at Alexandra Palace until 18th November and heads to the London Palladium from 21st – 22nd November.
Tickets from treasonthemusical.com
Photos by Danny Kaan