We are in 1605, the time of the Gunpowder Plot. The monarchy is absolute, not constiutional, which means the plan to blow up Parliament on its opening day was to kill the King, James I of England and VI of Scotland, son of the ill-fated Mary, Queen of Scots, and only blood heir of Elizabeth, Queen of England.
Thus the two kingdoms were joined together under the House of Stuart. There was turmoil on the political, religious and idealist fronts, and disquiet within the highest aristocratic families. This is the historical background of Ricky Allan’s new musical, which was recorded at Cadogan Hall in a concert version.
With songs, history, and a narrator, the tale of he King, the plotters, and those living with them, this concert version of Treason The Musical adds flair to the tracks we have already heard recorded as the musical continues its development.
The narrative is in rhyme, and the portrayal of King James (Daniel Boys) displays quite a bit of influence from Hamilton and George III in his light comic melodies, but elsewhere there are deeper songs and complex storytelling.
We meet Robert Caseby (Oliver Tompsett) who seems the intellectual, lost without his dead wife and seeking a cause, and Thomas Percy (Bradley Jaden), younger than history will tell, with his wife Martha (Lucie Jones).
We hear of Royal tyranny as Elizabeth the Queen dies in a 1603 flashback, with her heir uncertain. All these relationships are outlined in song, including Blind Faith, a duet for the Percys, and Caseby’s lament The Cold, Hard, Ground.
In less than fifty minutes, it is hard to tell such a story of politics, religion, and idealism, and perhaps some historical knowledge is required; certainly the narration is needed, with the “you won’t get toleration by killing your foes” being the closing message.
There are undertones of Tudor music in some songs set in 1603 as this reign gives way to the Stuarts, otherwise there is a driving percussive theme as the plot unfolds. The lighting (by Andrew James) suggests dark moments of plotting, “fighting fire with fire”, and perhaps a hint of hope for the future.
There are some beautiful songs here, but this is still very much at the stage of a recitation rather than a musical of full depth and power. However, having a female narrator (Debris Stevenson) and peacekeepers led by Martha Percy removes the usual narrative of Stuart male conspirators whispering in cold court corners.
These women are left with the shame and the clean-up as their men are trodden underfoot and their names are dragged through the mud. They were freer to move than men, without risk of financial disgrace (they could not hold property or money) or the more barbaric forms of execution.
The ‘Gunpowder women’ are of historical interest as they are the glue between plotters and families: sisters Eleanor Brooksby (Sharon Rose) and Anne Vaux (Rebecca LaChance), who sheltered priests; Martha, whose brothers died for the cause as well as her husband.
There are interesting characters as yet less developed, notably Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland (Cedric Neal), imprisoned in the Tower for near two decades as his guilt was suspected, but never proved. The Wright and Winter brothers are represented by one each; John (Waylon Jacobs) and Thomas (Emmanuel Kojo) respectively.
Treason The Musical has a lot of potential to build to a full-length piece and mixes a variety of styles (orchestrated by Matthew Malone) to feel more relevant to a contemporary audience. There is a lot to explore in a short running time, held together by director Hannah Chissick and the six-piece orchestra, conducted by Nick Finlow.
Image credit: Gavin Nugent
LouReviews received complimentary access to review Treason The Musical.