Review: TREASON – THE MUSICAL IN CONCERT, Theatre Royal Drury Lane

Carrie Hope Fletcher, Bradley Jaden, and Simon-Anthony Rhoden lead the cast for this explosive musical concert staging

By: Aug. 24, 2022
Review: TREASON – THE MUSICAL IN CONCERT, Theatre Royal Drury Lane

Review: TREASON – THE MUSICAL IN CONCERT, Theatre Royal Drury Lane "We are children of a divided kingdom." The story of the Gunpowder Plot still resonates 400 years on, whether you're a Catholic trying to navigate certain aspects of life in the UK, or if you consider the ever-present religious intolerance of various kinds - not to mention living under a government that is becoming increasingly authoritarian and self-serving by the day.

RICKY ALLAN and Kieran Lynn's musical treatment of the topic focuses on the human side of plots such as this, and how families deal with the fallout when their relatives are radicalised.

The central narrative is the relationship between Thomas and Martha Percy, married during the reign of Elizabeth I and trying to make the best of life under anti-Catholic laws. When the queen's health begins to deteriorate, the Earl of Northumberland sends Thomas to Scotland with a letter for King James - he is the likely heir to the English throne, and the Catholic lords are keen to receive some assurances from him before his accession is confirmed.

The king promises to stop the persecution and allow more religious freedom, but when he discovers that the English treasury is far from full, he resorts to filling it with Catholic fines. Enter Robert Catesby...

It's always interesting when historical figures and events are chosen for the stage or screen, as this obviously makes it a fictional account - but at the same time it does need to be a recognisable version of history. By and large, Treason manages to tread this line fairly well; one advantage of choosing Martha Percy as a central figure is that so little information about her has survived, so there's a fairly clean slate to work with. Similarly, a significant amount of airtime has been given to Guy Fawkes in the past, so making this about the rest of the plotters also affords a little more freedom - though as they were men, much more information about them has survived.

One of the big mysteries of the Gunpowder Plot has always been the Monteagle Letter: an anonymous note delivered to the Catholic Lord Monteagle, warning him to stay away from the opening of Parliament. This is often ascribed to conspirator Francis Tresham (Monteagle's brother-in-law) or Monteagle himself, as he did very well out of passing the letter on to the authorities. In Treason, however, the women left behind realise that this is their only chance of preventing innocent people from being killed in the men's reckless plot, so band together and write it themselves. Though unlikely in reality, it makes an excellent point about women being written out of history, and is easily the most interesting thing they get to do in the show.

Martha, for example, does seem to spend most of her time pining over Thomas, which is more than a little uninspiring - especially when you consider that there are some fascinating female characters out there. There is definitely room to expand the show a little more, so perhaps Anne Vaux could be brought in to strengthen the female narrative; she was as dedicated to her faith as the plotters, but used her position to do more practical good in her community. Her presence would be more stimulating than Martha's currently is.

What needs a complete rethink is the book. A narrator speaking in rhyming couplets is fine - especially when you have excellent spoken-word artist Debris Stevenson in control - but this style does not have to extend to every single character in the show. It makes everything they say sound completely laughable, and means there is very little depth to any of the show's dialogue as it's constantly serving the rhyme rather than the reason.

The show's strength lies in its songs, most of which have their origins in a folk style, some becoming more bombastic than others. There's a need for light and shade, of course, but the more large scale numbers (such as "Take Things Into Our Own Hands", "Digging Down Deeper", and "The Cold, Hard, Ground") are the highlights.

Though Robert Catesby's role in the show is smaller than his role in the actual plot, Simon-Anthony Rhoden really makes his mark and is suitably charismatic as the conspirator in chief. Bradley Jaden and Carrie Hope Fletcher work well together as Thomas and Martha Percy, delivering some spectacular vocal performances (most notably "Blind Faith") - all that would improve it is slightly more variety in song style for Martha.

There are obvious Hamilton parallels with the inclusion of James I, though it's slightly awkward that he's clearly the best character in the whole show. This is partly down to a gloriously camp performance from Daniel Boys, and a brilliant Rat Pack number in the second act ("As Far As I Can Tell") - Boys undoubtedly steals the show. He also forms an entertaining double act with Les Dennis as Robert Cecil, who generated the biggest laugh of the night with a simple Tory roast.

Treason does slightly rush to its conclusion, the conspirators' fates feeling a little anticlimactic after such a build up, however it's important to remember that this show is still developing. For me, the next step has to be to work it into a full staging rather than further concerts; the interest in the show has been established, so now it needs the opportunity to make the necessary improvements and flesh it out into the spectacle that Allan and Lynn's score deserves.

Treason - The Musical In Concert was at Theatre Royal Drury Lane on 22 and 23 August

Photo Credit: Mark Senior