Book and Lyrics: Maz Evans
Music: Luke Bateman
Director: Daniel Winder
Reviewer: Maryam Philpott
In the run-up to this weekend’s royal wedding, there has been plenty of commentary about a fresh-start for the Windsors, as a new and very different young woman marries into our most illustrious family. There is no better time then for the Union Theatre to stage the first full production of Maz Evans and Luke Bateman’s musical H R Haitchwhich began as an all too prophetic workshop in 2015.
It’s 2011 and the UK is about to announce the identity of Prince Albert who has been living a secret life for several years, unbeknownst to his girlfriend Chelsea and her family at the Dog and Duck pub in Barking. But, when “Bertie” finally comes clean, he and Chelsea find themselves at the Palace and at the centre of a media storm. With a referendum brewing on the future of the monarchy, can two unlikely lovers see a real future together?
There is a huge amount of comic charm in Evans and Bateman’s musical, and while its plot and characters offer few surprises, watching this light-hearted story of true love conquering adversity has some really entertaining moments. The central relationship between Bertie and Chelsea is the show’s strongest element managing to be sweet and believable even in the exaggerated musical world they inhabit. There’s even a nicely ambiguous villain in Princess Victoria (Emily Jane Kerr), barred from the succession by her gender, who schemes to overthrow her family, but who can really blame her determination to challenge archaic rules.
The strange events of the last two years have required Evans to undertake some rewrites and, in the new setting of 2011-2012, she has inserted plentiful jokes about future events from predicted London Olympic disasters to the need for Uber and the attempt to sell concert tickets for a range of popstars scheduled for the end of 2016. These land well the first time, but with frequent repetition as the show unfolds, they start to wear thin, but are easy enough to update to keep the show topical in future iterations.
The core story of Bertie’s true identity and absorption back into the royal family is well managed, and the best scene in H R Haitchsees Chelsea meet the in-laws for the first time, talking endlessly and ramping up the awkwardness of two very different world’s colliding. However, there are a few too many subplots, and although the humanity of the Taylors comes through, their regal equivalents are too one-note, deliberately so, but it makes the show feel uneven and predictable.
Tori Allen-Martin’s is superb as Chelsea, channelling the TOWIE princess, kind and loyal that makes the audience root for her. Allen-Martin exactly captures the exaggerated vocal tones of the accent, sings beautifully and earns every laugh. Her boyfriend Bertie couldn’t be more different; Christian James suggest just the right amount of dim-witted toff, unable to get his shoes on the right feet but hugely likeable. James delivers well in the big songs and makes the most of his great love song / musical number medley that is lots of fun.
The rest of the cast play dual roles to often hilarious effect, particularly Andrea Miller as sex-mad pensioner Vera as well as the foul-mouthed Queen Mary who cannot conceal how much she loathes her son. Christopher Lyne’s Prince Richard is a direct impression of our current heir to the throne, but in Chelsea’s father Brian he finds a warmth and affection for his daughter, as well as his lost wife, that brings so much heart to the piece.
Bateman and Evans’ songs are more variable, with Spare to the Heir – a Victoria Wood-like show tune – and Life in the Old Dog Yet – a cheeky vaudeville number – the most memorable. H R Haitch could slim down some of the more elaborate elements of the plot, but as an evening of light relief and some great comic performances it just about keeps its head. A few years ago, a new kind of princess in Buckingham Palace may have seemed absurd, but with the current pace of change anything is possible – H R Haitch may just be the future after all.
Runs until: 2 June 2018 | Image: Nick Rutter