LEICESTER, United Kingdom – One of the chief cultural differences between the United States and Great Britain is the main day to celebrate with fireworks.
In America, it is the Fourth of July and marks the country’s independence from Britain itself. In the United Kingdom itself, the date is November 5 – Guy Fawkes Night – and historically represents the country’s anti-Catholic stance.
A musical marking the Gunpowder Plot – the November 5, 1605, attempt to plow up Parliament and murder King James I – will take place Oct. 25-28 in the Festival Theatre in Edinburgh, Scotland.
Guy Fawkes Night was required attendance soon after the plot and named for the man put in charge of the explosives in the plot to try to blow up parliament. Effigies of the traitor and prominent Catholic figures like the Pope were set on fire as the fireworks were set off.
Treason the Musical is being called Britain’s answer to Hamilton, which brought the story of America’s independence to a new generation.
“It’s massively relevant, even though it was 400 years ago, and it will hopefully get people thinking and drawing parallels with the world we live in today,” Joe McFadden, who plays James I in the play, told the Sunday Post.
“We celebrate Guy Fawkes’ Night every year – burning effigies and setting off fireworks – without thinking about what it is. It was essentially a warning. For years, it was compulsory to go to the bonfires,” he said.
The show’s creator Ricky Allan told the Sunday Post the comparisons to Hamilton were flattering, but also a misconception.
“We’re very much our own thing but to be compared to it is wonderful. We’ve tried to find our unique place and we’re not Hamilton at all. The parallels probably lie in telling a historical story that doesn’t come across as a history lesson,” he said.
“We have a narrator but it’s very much rooted in spoken word poetry rather than rap. We’ve tried to use our sound palette as a more folky world that’s inspired by British sensibilities,” he continued.
Allan also noted the background of the Gunpowder Plot was “naturally theatrical and is such an epic story.”
“It delves into something interesting with the struggle of power. Back then it was with religion, but I saw a lot of parallels with today as well with the polarized political views or ideologies, so I thought it was an important story to re-tell now under a different lens,” he said.
Allan has spent a long time working on the musical play. He developed it during the COVID pandemic and released the songs online. A 45-minute concert was released as a film and played in concerts in London. However, the Edinburgh event will be the first full musical play and will appear in Sheffield and London later this year.
McFadden told the British newspaper that James I “really believed God had put him there and he had the divine right to the role.”
“He’d been told that over his life, and so what does that do to a person? I was in Westminster Abbey last week, where he had his coronation and where he is buried under the altar, and you think, of course he felt he’d been chosen by God, of course he had a massive ego, to have so much exultation and to have so many people fawning over him,” he said.
“The show helps to get to know the personalities involved and who the plotters were. Would it have been better if the King had been killed – the lesser of two evils? Knowing he went on to kill all these women and tax Catholics? That’s what good theatre does – it makes you think and wonder,” McFadden said.