THE TRANSATLANTIC MAGAZINE
As Lockdown limbo drags on, theatre makers are busy making plans and starting to see life beyond Covid restrictions. In normal times, getting a new musical off the ground can take years, but these days you also must grapple with ‘Covid-safe’ rehearsals and the best you can hope for at the end might be a Zoom event. They’ve gone one better here though and hired London’s elegant Cadogan Hall for an impressive concert staging (with no audience of course) to introduce the work.
Treason - the Musical has lush melodies, a talented young cast, the historical sweep of a Les Mis combined with a certain multi-cultural chic a la Hamilton. What we get is 50 mins of the songs with some key narration, read with gusto by the performance poet Debris Stevenson, and it certainly has potential. Concert stagings are usually for more familiar hits but here you have to imagine what this might look like fully staged after a Director and Designer have imposed their vision. This is very much a work in progress and will succeed or not based on the next step.
This story is set amidst the infamous and failed Gunpowder Plot of 1605, when Robert Catesby (Oliver Tompsett) and a group of provincial English Catholics sought to restore a Catholic monarchy by attempting to assassinate King James VI and I by blowing-up Parliament on the day of the State Opening. That event is still commemorated as Guy Fawkes Night with public bonfires every 5th of November in the UK.
Allan and Lynn’s book neatly centres not on Guy but rather on a lower profile member of the gang, the nobleman Thomas Percy (Bradley Jaden). Percy became disenchanted with the new King who had failed to deliver greater toleration for Catholics and so he fell in with the plotters.
The piece is very much not a history lesson though. The big numbers are mostly sweeping love ballads which direct the focus onto the romantic tribulations of Percy and his wife Martha (Lucie Jones) or Catesby’s personal struggle. The book will need to be fleshed out to give it all more dramatic heft because, here, the music has to do all the work.
Fans of Bridgerton or The Great might be drawn to a hip take on history but will be disappointed here. Its currency is old fashioned pathos, with not an ironic wink in sight, which is a relief. The only slight exception to this is Daniel Boys, whose very camp take on King James, whilst entertaining, owes more to La Cage Aux Folles than to Elizabeth R.
Ricky Allan’s score is rich and varied, replete with plaintive melodies which are steeped in Celtic Mists. He delivers some great signature ballads too such as ‘Blind Faith’ for Jaden and Jones, which contrasts Percy’s devotion to Martha with his devotion for Catesby or ‘Cold Hard Ground’ where the vastly experienced West End performer Tompsett, must pull out all the vocal stops. Indeed, the whole ensemble of 10, under the baton of Musical Supervisor Nick Pinchbeck, are vocally thrilling throughout. They ride out the occasional lapses into melodrama and quickly recover from the unfortunate lyrics about “mighty steeds”.
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