Treason The Musical – Festival Theatre, Edinburgh

Reviewer: Dominic Corr

Book: Charli Eglinton

Music & Lyrics: Ricky Allan

Director: Hannah Chissick

Treason the Musical heavily reminds us that history is constructed by those who emerged victorious. And they only have one story to tell: theirs. Ricky Allan and Charli Eglinton’s new musical offers a richer depth to the opening lines of the rhyme “Remember, Remember, The 5th ofNovember”.

It frankly points out how familiar we all are with the saying and celebration but know little of the context. Audiences are given a small glimpse of the history beyond the bonfire, of the plot to annihilate King James VI, the royal court, the leaders of government and the Protestant Church following the push for James to reinstate Penal Laws, pushing Catholics back underground after the promise of a fair and just union.

Instantly there is a recognition of the thought and care placed intoTreason:no doubts about this. Visually, Philip Witcomb’s set design hits with force; spectacular presence upon entering the Festival Theatre at the encompassing design wraps around the entirety of the stage. It’s a grim, dark and shadowed behemoth of a set piece which goes well beyond the visual – its metaphorical use, often tied into Jason Taylor’s lighting design, is superbly effective. From small, flickering candle-lights of hope, to scorching, crimson and vermillion pulses which remind us of Fawkes’ eventual fate.

The productions’ structure seems to stand on uneven footing, at least musically, switching between elements of rock opera, folk, and speak-sung-through spoken word. A principal issue with the production, for now, is there remains a lingering discomfort with the pacing and beat of the lyrics that often raise ears to attune to Allan and Debris Stevenson’s lyrics. The stronger numbers are often the ones with a more commonplace style, with a focus more on repetitive chorus or audience-favourite ballads, greatly benefitting Oscar Conlon-Morrey and Nicole Raquel Dennis, who walk away with the production’s catchiest and most attuned numbers. Standing firm in a heavily male-identifying cast, Raquel Dennis and Emilie Louise Israel bring terrifically pitched and rounded characterisation and presence as Martha Percy and Anne Vaux.

As our principal antagonist, Conlon-Morrey’s bureaucratic and conniving Robert Cecil is a stand-out performance, their solo number a highlight of the show, and performed with a tremendously slimy and enjoyable glee. While Joe McFadden’s King James IV makes a sterling effort at capturing the hopeful man who sees a new world ahead of him, broken and manipulated by those with sway around them. Vocally adept, but let down by the narrative’s flippant structure, McFadden carries his usual strong stage presence, changing their form throughout as the King is gradually broken down by his fears of witchcraft, daemonology, and ironically, plots on his life.

The remainder of the plotters, comprising historical figures played by Sam Ferriday, Kyle Cox, Alfie Richards, Lewis Edgar, and Connor Jones with a superb Robert Catesby (financier and arguable leader of the plotters) all perform admirably. There’s a kinship, and both Jones and Ferriday are offered a more significant slice of the story – with Ferriday’s stage chemistry with Raquel Dennis capturing the humanity and heart at the centre of this, as well as delivering some of the scores more impressive moments.

But what of the Guy themselves? The name everyone in the room knows. Guy Fawkes may be the emblem, the scapegoat, of history, but there was a much longer fuse leading up to his involvement. Performed as a spectre revisiting the events leading up to the Gunpowder Plot, Gabriel Akamo’s presence is immediate. They lace themselves throughout the production, never interacting with the cast until one final moment. Akamo’s final swansong atop the pyre is a remarkably crystalline assault from the past into the ignorance of today – delivered with verve and conviction which one rarely finds.

The production’s early cries that surely, once the deaths of children enter the conflict something must change rings painfully accurate nearly 418 years later. There’s a spark of something special here – an ambitious scheme, a superbly keen idea which has captured its garb: but there’s still room to find its voice. WhereTreasonhits the mark, a fuse is struck and its embers kindle as poignant a message which communicates to the audience in spirit, but not entirely in construction. But there is no question about the production’s longevity and success – it has found an audience, it will inspire, and yes, it will be remembered well beyond the fifth of November.

Runs until 28 October 2023, then continues on tour | Image: Dan Gill

The Reviews Hub Score

Plenty of Spark, Little Plot

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One Comment

  1. I saw Treason the musical in Edinburgh on Saturday it was absolutely fabulous.

    The entire cast are talented and amazing to watch and the standard of singing live is just outstanding,

    I hadn’t checked who was in it beforehand as I thought it was a local production only. I was blown away by the story, how it builds and I have to say I fell in love with all of the characters. I laughed and I cried but mostly I was just loving the show. There’s a few little special magic moments that I’ve not seen happen in other shows, superb.

    I might even go see it again and I wouldn’t be surprised to hear it becomes a new big worldwide hit, now I know it’s moving to London. It most certainly couldn’t have got off to a better start. I feel blessed really makes you think too, inspiring.

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