Music and Lyrics: Ricky Allan
Book: Ricky Allan and Kieran Lynn
Director: Hannah Chissick
Telling the story of the 1605 Gunpowder Plot, Treason the Musical reframes a crisis of succession from the plotters’ perspective.
A concert filmed at Cadogan Hall, in anticipation of the musical’s theatrical debut later this year, showcases the songs and key moments of this new work from composer and lyricist, Ricky Allan. Treason works it way up to the Plot, introducing us to the conspirators: Robert Catesby, Thomas Percy, Tom Winter and John Wright.
The musical starts in 1603, and Elizabeth I is facing her final days. Unmarried and childless, she is under pressure to name an heir. Living under Elizabeth has been traumatic for England’s Catholic population. There is talk of Scotland’s King James taking over the throne. There are rumours that James will be generous in allowing Catholics to worship freely. Needing assurance from James, Thomas Percy is nominated as the man to meet with him.
Percy finds favour with the potential King, and James (a fabulous Daniel Boys) makes a promise. If he is made King of England, Catholics will no longer be persecuted. Of course, once James I ascends to the throne, all promises are forgotten.
The group of men – disillusioned with King and State – plot revenge. Coming up with a plan to blow up the Houses of Parliament, the song Take Things into our Own Hands imagines the possibility of dismantling the ultimate patriarchy.
While the staging at Cadogan Hall is stripped back to basics, the interactions between the performers – even when limited by social distancing – give an indication of how the musical will look on the stage when Treason goes into full production. Singing Blind Faith, Lucie Jones and Bradley Jaden depict a marriage pulled apart by conflicting loyalties. As Thomas Percy, Jaden draws us into his religiously fervent existence, while Martha Percy (Jones) desperately tries to make herself visible to a man so immersed in political intrigue, he can see little else.
While we get historical background – and plenty of it – from the Narrator (an excellent Debris Stevenson), it is the decision to dig into the psychological past of these men, that is really at the heart of this musical. Playing Robert Catesby, Oliver Tompsett reveals how the death of his wife has changed him. Far from being afraid of the consequences of being caught and punished, Catesby longs to join his wife again. The Cold, Hard Ground not only shows off Tompsett’s range, but gives us an insight into why these men were willing to risk so much. With a script so densely packed with facts and dates, the emotional resonance of the characters is important, and Treason promises a musical that does not neglect this aspect of the story-telling process.
A concert can only give us so much of an idea of what to expect from this new musical, but what is immediately clear is that the music of Treason is the star. Ricky Allan’s score is packed with bass notes and thundering percussion, evoking the danger and instability of the era. The songs – incorporating elements of folk music – are extremely effective in creating and sustaining atmosphere. There is a confidence in the music that carries through the entire concert. This feels very much like a musical with its components all in place.
When we emerge from the Covid-19 crisis, it will be difficult to say what the appetite for new work will be among audiences. Will they prefer the comfort of old favourites, or be clamouring for something new? Treason – with its political storyline and clutch of great songs – can potentially offer the best of both. A musical about the struggle for a fairer society may end up speaking the most to an audience who has experienced its share of uncertainty. Treason may be on hold, but its potential – to be the musical in the right place at the right time – is huge.
Available here until 14 March 2021