RELIGIOUS conflict is a brave choice for musicals. For one, Boubil and Schonberg’s Martin Guerre, set against France’s Wars of Religion, was not the Les Mis hit that they hoped for. But the theme persists, and a new piece, Treason, brings the Guy Fawkes story to modern audiences. It began life in 2020 as a five-track EP and has now sparked into a fully staged production. Ricky Allen’s music and lyrics have been augmented with a book, additional lyrics, and other material by Charli Eglinton, Kieran Lyn, and Debris Stevenson.
The beginning is a slow burn, but, once it gets into gear, there’s much to take in. The clandestine Roman Catholic wedding of Martha and Thomas Percy in the dying days of Elizabeth I places a love story at the centre of the action, roles to which Nicole Raquel Dennis and Sam Ferriday bring sweetness and passion. They want the freedom to live out their relationship in public and hope that James I, as the new unifying monarch, will bring this. Thomas decides to go to the King, played with impish verve by the Heartbeat heartthrob Joe McFadden, to plead for clemency. But the villainous Chief Minister, Robert Cecil (Oscar Conlon-Morrey, commandingly brilliant), is having none of it, and, besides, the kingdom is broke; so they need to keep up the Catholic fines.
Owing to some local aggro, Martha loses the unborn Percy baby, and Thomas then vows to dethrone the King. A fellow recusant, Anne Vaux, also threads in and out, a part to which Emilie Louise Israel brings superlative vocals. Fawkes, sinister and aloof in Gabriel Akamo’s saturnine portrayal, has been narrating all along, punctuating the action with sounds of a struck match and a ticking clock. Now the plotters get together, although, curiously, Fawkes remains on the outside. The rest is history: they fail, get caught, and die.
The production values are terrific. Hannah Chissick’s direction is crisp and strongly theatrical. Philip Witcomb’s costumes and set of Gothic-lattice doors that concertina in and out against a backdrop of tinderbox-dry planks allies with Jason Taylor’s moody lighting. Nick Pinchbeck and the band go all out on the score, matching the energetic cast, bar by bar. Taylor Walker’s choreography is fluent if occasionally meddlesome.
Danny KaanGabriel Akamo as Guy Fawkes with The Eyes in Treason: The Musical
Does it catch light? More or less, and, at times, it soars. The show owes a great debt to Hamilton — in the flow of the scenes, the gestured shifting of furniture, movement, and even some of the music (including rap). But that was not Lin-Manuel Miranda’s debut, which should be an encouragement to this creative team’s evident talent. A touch more light and shade with a little less full-throttle on so many songs could help.
Fawkes delivers a sermon at the stake at the end as he is being burned, about how we can all live together better, making him almost Anglican after all. Most of the audience leapt to their feet in delight and applauded wildly — not at the execution after the manner of one of his Bonfire Night effigies, but at the show and its message. Religious violence is never a good thing.
At the Alexandra Palace, London N22, until tomorrow. Phone 020 8365 4343. At the London Palladium, Argyll Street, London W1, next Tuesday and Wednesday. Phone 0203 925 2998. treasonthemusical.com