Treason: The Musical @ Festival Theatre, Edinburgh

Ricky Allan and Charli Eglinton's Gunpowder Plot musical Treason is all tell, no show

Review by Gabriel von Spreckelsen | 30 Oct 2023
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I’ve noticed the trend in musical theatre for the audience to see the set before the show begins; in the case of Treason: The Musical, that includes a smoky haze which drifts over the auditorium. Either that, or my glasses were really, really dirty. I didn't really mind the haze though, because neither set nor costumes were especially beautiful. Perhaps that’s missing the point of the story, but considering the total absence of light relief in the show, it did add up to a musical high on emotion and low on spectacle.

Treason tells the story of Guy Fawkes (Gabriel Akamo) and the Gunpowder Plot, through the novel technique of entirely removing Fawkes (in reality a key player) from the action. The removal of the most famous person from the story makes the show more like a 17th-century Six Authors in Search of a Main Character, with Thomas Percy (Sam Ferriday), Martha Percy (Nicole Raquel Dennis), Robert Catesby (Connor Jones), and King James (Joe McFadden) all having the sort of audience asides which mark them out as protagonists. There are moments of musical transcendence, as in the Percys' seamless duet, Blind Faith, but Treason makes for a determinedly cheerless show, which culminates in Guy Fawkes’s incitement to rebellion against oppressive regimes. Applaudable, but considering the audience knows that the Gunpowder Plot was a waste of everybody’s time, not entirely inspiring.

It’s hard not to compare Treason to Hamilton, due to its aesthetics and historical reevaluation, but the comparison is an unkind one. Treason lacks the rhythmic and lyrical gymnastics of Hamilton, preferring a plaintext version of lyrics using mundane rhymes and idioms to describe the most amoral of events. By the time the second act began, I felt inured to the trauma onstage and even began to nod off.

Treason: The Musical, Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, run ended