It has been a long time since I’ve been able to watch any theatre, so streaming Treason The Musical was a real treat, even if it wasn’t live and in person. Treason The Musical is a new historical musical about the Gunpowder Plot (in which Guy Fawkes tried to blow up King James I on 5th November 1605) by Ricky Allen, and this concert version was filmed at Cadogan Hall. It focuses primarily on some of the key plotters like Robert Catesby and Thomas Percy, and interestingly Fawkes himself doesn’t appear, although he is mentioned. Like in Six, (a musical about Henry VIII’s wives in which Henry himself doesn’t appear), this takes the narrative away from the man around whom it usually centres and looks at history from a different point of view.
The show follows the development of events from the death of Elizabeth I, through the increasing persecution of Catholics under King James, and then onto the Plot itself, how it went wrong, and the fate of those who planned it. There are also some personal elements explored too, for example, the relationship between Thomas Percy and his wife, and her concern about his growing fixation with Catesby and his radical ideas. Catesby’s backstory is also explored, and particularly how grief-stricken he has been since the death of his wife, and his subsequent willingness to risk his own life. It is suggested that this is a key part of why he conducts such a dangerous plot, and the fact that he doesn’t seem to have any qualms about bringing others down with him turns him into something of an anti-hero, which comes across particularly well in the extremely powerful, “The Cold, Hard Ground,” brilliantly sung by Oliver Thompsett. The entire cast should be commended, as all their voices are wonderful and harmonised beautifully together. Another special mention I’d like to give though is to Daniel Boys for a wonderful reimagining of King James I which renders him rather sinister but also compelling and upbeat.
The show has many wonderful songs, each with a different feel, from sombre to empowering to light-hearted. I do hope though that more songs will be added if Treason ever properly comes to the West End, not only because as it is, it’s rather short, at less than an hour-long, but also because I think there are plenty more plot elements and character dynamics which could be explored. I think it will also benefit from full staging, costumes, effects and so on, and the actors being able to interact with each other, which was not possible with this socially distanced concert performance, with each of them standing at a lectern.
Some final elements I’d like to praise are the band- the music was wonderful and an integral element of the show of course- and the narration. The narration being poetry rather than prose gave a rather classic element next to more modern ones, and it worked very well.
With more production to bring it out of the concert form, Treason would definitely have the potential to be a big new West End musical, and I very much look forward to seeing what the future holds for it! As someone who loves history and musicals, there is nothing better than seeing such an exciting part of our history told in such a fresh new way.