Review by Daz Gale
This month has seen the London Musical Theatre Orchestra take over Theatre Royal Drury Lane for a series of one-off concerts (all with additional dates due to high demand). The last few weeks have seen incredible productions of Kinky Boots and Chess, but they’re doing something a bit different for their third and final production of the month – premiering a brand new musical.
Treason first started life as a series of songs released online, instantly generating a buzz. This was followed by a short concert version that was filmed at Cadogan Hall and streamed in March 2021. A project that has continued to grow and adapt, it has since had a workshop but this marks the first time it has ever been seen in front of a live audience… and what a way to make a debut.
It’s a bold move, and I admire the ambition to debut a brand new musical in such a huge scale like this, in the soaring setting that is Theatre Royal Drury Lane. I’ve personally been on a journey with this show, supporting them from its initial announcement and excitedly watching their streamed concert, where I referred to it as “the British Hamilton”.
The plot (pun intended) revolves around that famous incident on a certain date in November (I forget which) involving Guy Fawkes and a whole lot of gunpowder. The story of the failed plan to blow up the House of Lord and assassinate then King James I to restore the Catholic monarchy to England, Treason was born out writer Ricky Allans fascination with untold stories of our history, which in this show means delving into what may have happened through artistic licence.
A phenomenal cast have been assembled to bring Treason to life, with instantly familiar faces filling every inch of the stage. Carrie Hope Fletcher has fast become known as one of the greatest talents the West End has, and here she is every bit as sensational as ever, channelling the complexities and despair of Martha Percy. Through a truly emotive performance, she is gripping to watch, even though her time in the spotlight does feel fairly limited. Her husband Thomas Percy is played by Bradley Jaden, swapping Javerts coat from Les Miserables for another revolutionary tale (albeit a less successful one this time). With a gorgeous voice and commanding presence, he is not only a joy to watch but displays unrivalled chemistry with his on stage wife.
The Hamilton alumni are out in force in Treason with Simon-Anthony Rhoden and Waylon Jacobs both fantastic as Robert Catesby and Jack Wright, joined by Adam Pearce as Thomas Wintour creating a great core group alongside Bradley Jadens Thomas Percy. Following his showstopping turn as Lola in Kinky Boots 2 weeks ago, Cedric Neal returns to the Theatre Royal Drury Lane stage for a comparatively small but memorable turn as Earl of Northumberland.
Les Dennis gets a comic turn as Robert Cecil, delivering impeccable comic timing on his number ‘Paperwork’, though the inclusion of this number does feel jarring tonally, almost like he is in a completely different show to everyone else. Daniel Boys is an absolute standout as King James I. Definitely taking inspiration from the role of King George III in Hamilton, he is suitably camp and eccentric as he struts around the stage on his big musical numbers, delighting the audience in a truly scene-stealing role. Poet Debris Stevenson adds a unique touch to the show as the narrator, with her delivery one of the highlights of the show.
Treason has now grown from its initial 6 songs to a whopping 31 in this concert production. Written by Ricky Allan, they feature some truly stunning moments. Carrie Hope Fletcher gets some of the biggest numbers of the night in ‘When Will I See You Again?’ and undoubted highlight ‘The Inevitable’. She also has a jaw dropping duet with Bradley Jaden on ‘Blind Faith’. While the standard of songs is generally high, considering most of these are being debuted for the first time, there were certain numbers that didn’t quite work. While ‘Paperwork’ was a fun little song, it did feel jarring tonally compared to the others, while ‘Digging Down Deeper’ lacked the power of its surrounding numbers. A common problem I found in the songs was they all seemed to end too abruptly, leaving the audience confused whether or not to applaud. A tiny issue which is easily fixed, but one that I couldn’t help but keep noticing throughout.
While this is a concert production, the staging was much more than just that, with fantastic choreography from Taylor Walker. A beautiful use of video design from Gino Ricardo Green was a perfect addition to the grand stage while dim and often red lighting from Simsola Majekodunmi created a fittingly dark and atmospheric setting.
The book by Ricky Allan and Kieran Lynn has now been fleshed out to reveal the full story of Thomas Percy, his fellow plotters and the women in their lives. While the women sit in the background for a large part of the show, they get their own moment of empowerment with a truly fantastic line about “Men shatter the glass ceiling, we pick up the pieces”. However, there is still work to be done with the book with slight pacing issues throughout the piece and characters not as fleshed out as you would like. It is worth pointing out though that, not only was this the first time Treason has been seen by a live audience, this was essentially the first preview as well, so with that in mind, there is a lot of potential for growth with this show.
The comparisons to Hamilton are inevitable. Not only with the themes but in the performances themselves. While I still think Treason could well be the British Hamilton, I couldn’t help but feel like they had strayed a little bit too close to Hamilton territory to the extent that it now felt far too similar to it. Act 2 became a bit of Les Miserables in parts too, leaving me longing for Treason to carve out their own identity as they really do have the moving parts needed to make this work, they’re just not all in the right place as yet. I really do love this show and have been excited to follow it throughout its journey but perhaps this was a case of running before it can walk? It really does huge potential but there is definitely work to be done here.
Despite this, Treason was still a great show to watch. Just seeing this show grow to the stage that it can now play a venue as prestigious as Theatre Royal Drury Lane was heart-warming, and it was great to be a part of the shows history by being there at the first performance. An incredible cast and some truly phenomenal songs, I have no doubt that Treason is destined for huge things. If they can just make the tweaks that are needed, I truly believe this could be a 5 star show. Like the plotters, the plan may not have been pulled off completely but with a little bit of fine-tuning, I’m confident Treason will be an explosive piece of theatre that is bound to blow up.
This season of concerts at Theatre Royal Drury Lane has been incredibly special. London Musical Theatre Orchestra bought 3 very different shows to life and sounded beautiful every time. I also want to commend the producers Piers Cottee-Jones Entertainment, Katy Galloway productions and Carter Dixon McGill Productions for taking a chance on doing something different by bringing such different shows to life in such a new and unique way, particularly by including a brand new musical like Treason among the mix. It may have been a risk but ultimately it has paid off and become one of the theatre highlights of the year. I hope they can do more shows like this in the future as there really is something completely powerful about them.
For updates on the future of Treason follow them at twitter.com/TreasonMusical
Photos by Mark Senior