Treason – Alexandra Palace Theatre, London

Reviewer: Dulcie Godfrey

Music and lyrics: Ricky Allan

Book: Charli Eglinton

Director: Hannah Chissick

Remember, remember, the 5th of November, where instead of burning effigies and fireworks, Guy Fawkes and the gunpowder plot are reimagined in an all-singing all-dancing musical. Alexandra Palace hosts Treason, a historical musical recreation that sees a solid concept album fail to become full-length musical.

The surviving silhouette of the famous Guy Fawkes (Gabriel Akamo) is brought to life once more on the exposed floorboards of the lofty Alexandra Palace Theatre stage. Fawkes appears stoic in every scene, witnessing and narrating the plot, ominously winding up a stopwatch as he goes, building the audience toward the inevitable bloody end of the gunpowder plot.

Before the gory climax, however, we meet Thomas Percy (Sam Ferriday). Percy is marrying the love of his life, Martha (Nicole Raquel Dennis), but they are forced to celebrate their union in secret, because of the persecution and legislation against Catholics mandated by the government. James I’s ascension to the throne ignites hope for a future of religious tolerance, but any optimism is quickly quashed as the old status quo is quickly enforced. The brutalised Catholics spark a plot for vengeance amongst a few scheming men, and it is a plan that is set to be remembered for centuries to come.

The only saving grace of this production is a somewhat solid musical soundtrack and excellent vocals from all the cast. Nicole Raquel Dennis as Martha particularly is a powerhouse of a performer, and with Emilie Louise Israel as Martha’s best friend Anne Vaux, they create the only truly moving moment of the plot that sees Martha facing a heart-breaking ‘cross-roads’ with her conscience, love for her husband, and her best friend. The rest of the production fails to shine through the pastiche of confusing plot points.

Even when the music is enjoyable, the message the play is trying to communicate is hard to come to terms with. The politics of the gunpowder plot is a big story, but Treason squashes it into a few small confusing moments. The horrible plight of the persecuted Catholics is translated into frenetic choreography that fails to build any sympathy for the characters as it just comes across as confusing.

James I as the paranoid superstitious King, although an entertaining performance from Joe McFadden, is not much more than comic relief. The audience is directed to follow Thomas Percy as the protagonist but it’s impossible to sympathise with someone they have no insight into. We are repeatedly told how important Percy is to the community, but we don’t know why or how he got here. Percy’s defining song only reveals that he is insecure and mourns for his dead sister. The same can be said for the rest of the plotting crew, with whom we see almost no camaraderie or connection. We start to get a back story from Robert Catesby, the main orchestrator of the whole scheme, but as it is beautifully sung by Connor Jones it is swiftly cut off.

Even Guy Fawkes as a character fails to translate, communicating through rhyming verse monologues that are nicely delivered by Akamo, but are rendered utterly meaningless by the confusion of the plot. Indeed, even though he is the name crowds chant in this festive season, he doesn’t directly interact with any other character, just confusingly saddled with the blame and no context is given as to why that is happening.

All the performers give it their all, and succeed in delivering an, at times, beautiful musical performance. But they are let down by dialogue that is clichéd at best, and fragmented and confusing at its worst. Excellent lighting from Jason Taylor and a good use of an effective stage designed by Philip Witcomb cannot compete with the production’s failures.

Comparisons to Hamilton are hard not to make; modernising a historical story with contemporary music and choreography; a chorus adorned in nude-coloured waistcoats and tights; heavy featuring of chair choreography; and a slightly flamboyant king who is rendered mad. But comparisons only expose this play’s failures; and it doesn’t help that the production invites this comparison only for it to fail.

Anticipation built by a positively received album and series of concert performances is completely unfulfilled in the end result of this production. The disappointment of Treason lies in it having all the moving parts of an impressive production, but failing to come together in a coherent way.

Runs till 18 November then 21-22 November 2023 at the London Palladium.

The Reviews Hub Score

Anticipated but disappointing

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The Reviews Hub - London

The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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