Hot new historical show Treason the Musical takes the 400-year-old story of the Gunpowder Plot – and plants a bomb under it.
And if you get chance this Bonfire Night weekend, in a stroke of timing that could not be more perfect, see the world premiere of this new production right here in Sheffield – before it moves on to set London alight.
Three years in the making, and a slow burn as a streaming soundtrack before evolving to the stage, the show is dynamite.
It’s been lauded as ‘the British Hamilton’ and it’s easy to see why: a modern retelling of the past, the lesser-known human relationships at the heart of history, the rapid-fire rap-infused lyrics, the hair-raising harmonies that give you goosebumps.
Like Hamilton, it takes a story that seems familiar, fundamental even to our collective past, and examines it anew.
We might be heading for bonfires this weekend, watching fireworks or collecting a penny for the guy, but who really knows the details? After seeing Treason you will – and you’ll wonder why on earth, as a nation, we still mark the event at all.
The show is timely not just because of the date. Politics, intolerance, injustice and scapegoating… polarised communities in fear of persecution… impressionable men radicalised in the name of religion… things don’t change they twist, as Guy Fawkes himself tells us, and the parallels with modern day are uncanny.
Things got off to a bumpy start on opening night. Curtain-up was delayed by over 15 minutes due to technical difficulties, and there was another, brief, interruption in act two for the same reason.
Once underway, as smoke swirls and candles flicker, the story focuses not on Fawkes – played with menace by Gabriel Akamo as a dub-poet narrator – and instead shines the light on plotter Thomas Percy and his wife, Martha.
Sam Ferriday is vulnerable as Percy, Nicole Raquel Dennis sweetly strong as Martha, and together their vocals blow you away. Their duet ballad Blind Faith is one of the show’s standout moments.
Another comes courtesy of Oscar Conlon-Morrey, the manipulative Cummings-esque advisor Robert Cecil to Holby and Strictly star Joe McFadden’s comedic James I. His song The Enemy Within – reminiscent of Fagin’s Reviewing the Situation from Oliver – is a highlight.
The simple set is dark and atmospheric – fretwork wooden walls like Catholic church confessionals open and close to become secret priestholes, Scottish palaces, and the spit and sawdust Duck and Drake Inn where the plot to blow up parliament and bring down the monarchy was hatched.
Despite, maybe because of, its various rewrites en route to the stage, some parts of the play still don’t gel perfectly.
The denouement of the failed plot itself feels hurried. Some of the lyrics miss the mark and are just too simplistic – where’s Lin-Manuel Miranda when you need him?
The jerky, twisted agonies as Fawkes is dragged painfully back from 1605 to recount his story are confusing.
And the finale, disappointingly, was an anti-climax. After a sensational score of some truly soaring songs the show deserves a Les Mis-style whole-ensemble cracker to send it off with a bang – not the preachy, speechy, wordy finish from a lecturing Fawkes which felt like a damp firework that fails to ignite.
But still, the show is undeniably explosive – a spark of genius new theatre, being championed in Sheffield, that is surely set to catch alight and burn bright in the Big Smoke for years to come. Go.
Treason the Musical is at the Lyceum Theatre, Sheffield, until Saturday, November 4