The thing about Treason is that it really ought to work as a musical. But for anyone who saw the concert version at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane last summer, this latest fully-staged production is, unfortunately, a step backwards.
The actual gunpowder plot remains glossed over and there is still little character development but its biggest crime is that Treason is utterly joyless in its delivery. Some of the greatest musicals heap tragedy upon tragedy on its protagonists but there are still fleeting moments of triumph or at least rousing musical numbers to captivate audiences. Treason doesn't really have either.
Far too many scenes drag on for too long to the point that the piece feels extremely laboured. The pacing is completely off, with any sparks of tension snuffed out before the audience is really invested. There is little to no character development, while both the book and score feel pedestrian, lacking in coherence and, as a result, the entire show suffers. It is quite confusing how such a dramatic moment in history can be so lacking on stage.
It would be unfair to compare this latest touring cast to the previous iteration. Gone are the household names (at least in West End circles) of Carrie Hope Fletcher, Bradley Jaden and Cedric Neal. And while the current cast does a solid job with the material they are working with, it highlights how the talent attached to the concert performance merely papered over the cracks of a pretty uneven piece.
That being said, Nicole Raquel Dennis delivers an exquisite vocal performance as Martha Percy, taking on the show's most memorable song ‘The Inevitable'. Many will be familiar with Lucie Jones' or even Fletcher's version and this is yet another wonderful take on it. There is also a powerful duet between Martha and her friend Anne Vaux (Emilie Louise Israel) with the pair combining over the spine-tingling ‘Caught In The Crossfire'. But the relationship between the two women is palpably more compelling than the love story we are expected to believe in between Martha and her husband Thomas (Sam Ferriday).
However, these brighter moments are in short supply. While the predominantly male cast, featuring Connor Jones as Robert Catesby and Kyle Cox as Jack Wright, generally impress, they are mercilessly bogged down by Charli Eglinton's muddled book and Ricky Allan's forgettable score. ‘Take Things into Our Own Hands' lacks the inspiration it might have had, while King James (Joe McFadden) appears to have had all charisma stripped away in this latest version. McFadden seems unsure which direction to take the character in, with moments of levity missing the mark in this otherwise serious piece. Oscar Conlon Morrey delights as the King's wiley sidekick Robert Cecil though, stealing Act One with a slick solo number.
A further improvement on the concert production is the elevation of Guy Fawkes from his previously small role in the plot to become the show's de facto narrator. Gabriel Akamo is brooding and menacing in his presence. Meanwhile, Philip Whitcomb's folding set design is visually striking, complemented by Jason Taylor's lighting of bright beams shining through wooden slats. They use the vast, shabby chic setting of the restored Alexandra Palace Theatre to relatively good effect.
Treason has tried to position itself as the ‘British Hamilton'. Despite a lot of hype and anticipation, the fully staged production proves that it is not. While the concert version was flawed and had room for improvement, the show seems to have gone backwards during its development phase. Despite a few moments of inspiration, it remains mired in its own exposition and does little to evoke emotion of any sort from its audience.
At this stage, it remains to be seen what the future of the production might be. Perhaps it is best consigned to seasonal semi-staged concerts because, as things stand, there is a huge amount of work needed to bring this confused piece up to scratch.
Treason plays at the Alexandra Palace Theatre until 18th November, as well as 21st-22nd November at the London Palladium. Tickets from £22: here.
Review: Tom Ambrose