Alexandra Palace, London- until 18th November 2023
Reviewed by: Ava Clarkson
Treason The Musical has been long in the making. From its first spark in November 2020, with a 5 track EP, a live streamed concert during the pandemic in 2021, and now this year’s stage debut in October 2023. Treason The Musical has been streamed online over a million times, in 96 countries and has followers known as “plotters” who adore this musical tale. Created by Ricky Allen, this musical journey tells the tale of the gunpowder plot of 1605.
Set inside the beautiful theatre at Alexandra Palace, the stage is dark and smoky, with flickering candles in church windows, underneath wooden 17th century style beams. The surroundings are perfect for this production and the atmosphere before we begin is moody and almost spooky in its nature.
As the musical begins, Guy Fawkes, played by Gabriel Akamo, sets the scene. However, he is not there in character, but as the immortalised Fawkes whom we remember every year since that fateful night. He asks us to remember him but also to hear the truth.
The main plot of the play is the love story between Thomas Percy played by Sam Ferriday and Martha Percy played by Nicole Raquel Dennis. Percy and Fawkes are both friends with Robert Gatesby, played by Connor Jones and all three are members of a group of provincial English Catholics who plan to assassinate King James 1, played by Joe McFadden. The failed plot as we know from history, was to place gunpowder beneath the House of Lords and blow up parliament. However, the authorities were tipped off and during the early morning of 5th November 1605, Guy Fawkes was found guarding the explosives. He was made a scapegoat for the group and after days of torture, confessed to wanting to blow up the houses of parliamentary and was subsequently hung, drawn and quartered.
The telling of this historical story however falls short and the musical focuses on the marriage of Thomas and Martha. How Thomas grows increasingly more disenchanted with King James and his persecution of the Catholics within the newly formed United Kingdom of Scotland and England. When he goes back on his promises of toleration of the Catholic religion, Thomas sets out to put things right, alongside Robert Gatesby. Martha tries and fails to persuade Thomas that he should not move into the extremist path, but his mind cannot be changed and he continues to pursue the justice he feels he and his fellow catholics deserve and Martha is left heartbroken and alone.
During the performance, Guy Fawkes stands ominously in the background of each act, but only has a very short walk on part when he is arrested under parliament and dragged away. This felt rushed and almost an afterthought considering the plot as we know it surrounds Fawkes.
During the performance, the singing is outstanding. The main female leads, Nicole Raquel Dennis and Emelie Louise Israel who plays Anne Vaux, have exquisite vocals and deliver some amazing performances. One of the stand out songs was “caught in the crossfire”, which Nicole and Emelie sang together and which held the audience and lifted the roof. A haunting duo. However, although the singing was amazing throughout, some of the songs seemed Disney-like as they returned to each chorus again and again, meaning each singing performance felt drawn out.
King James 1, although a big part of the gunpowder plot, did not really fit into this musical. His character was more portrayed as going mad than being mad at the catholic religion. He failed to be portrayed as the tyrannical King he was.
The stage moved seamlessly over the 90 minutes as the ensemble dancers acted as prop movers, whilst carrying out effortless and beautiful choreography. The set production, lighting and ambience was just right.
As the musical closes, we finally see Guy Fawkes again. The stage set and props look fantastic as he stands there seemingly being burned at the stake. Gabriel Akamo comes into his own as he gives a dramatic and powerful speech reminding us not to be afraid to stand up for what we believe in. Illuminating injustices in today’s world and being the spokesman for the rebels of the gunpowder plot. This monologue feels relevant to today’s society and it’s at this point you realise how he and his character could have been utilised more throughout what is essentially his story.
Ricky Allen’s music and lyrics continue to carry us through this journey and it is easy to see how Treason started out as a collection of songs which has such a following. However, being moved to the stage I do not feel it achieved its promise to tell us one of the most intriguing tales in Britain’s history as it has never been seen before. The whole show felt drawn out but in some key points very rushed and glossed over. Major characters were not explored and the climax did not ignite me as it should have