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.
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