With a Royal Wedding rapidly approaching, it feels like the ideal time for Maz Evans and Luke Bateman’s H.R.Haitch to develop from work in progress at The Actors Church, to full blown production at The Union Theatre. Indeed, when the show was being developed the writers could never have known just how much change the country would see, and how swathes of their script would suddenly appear less like satire and more like real-life.
The One Direction track playing in the Dog & Duck pub gives us our first clue that we’re back in 2011. Pre-Olympics, Pre-Brexit and Pre-Meghan Markle (unless you were a Suits fan from season one). The flat screen TV shows a series of news broadcasts which give us some context; there’s a new Prime Minister, and with Queen Mary approaching her Golden Jubilee, impatient and widower son Richard is gagging to get his turn on the throne, while his son and heir has been in hiding for twenty years.
Back at the Dog & Duck, common-as-muck Chelsea is in for a shock when she discovers her new fiancée is the missing Prince Albert, and life in the Royal Family won’t be the same as in an East end pub.
H.R.Haitch feels like a cross between a Jeremy Lloyd/David Croft sitcom and Eastenders, with a musical dose of My Fair Lady thrown in. It rarely takes itself seriously, and almost every line is a set up for a joke, much like Mrs Slocombe’s pussy, you’re expecting it, but find yourself giggling along anyway.
The writers may have intended to give a sly wink to the events of the last few years, but much of it is as noticeable as a jewel in the crown, yes “if only London had a cheap and reliable mini-cab service”, I wonder if the writers were trying to tell us something here!
The two-tier set allows the Union Theatre stage to feel much bigger. The lower tier is the pub, and it’s been set up to look like the typical east end drinking establishment, where dodgy deals mix with big hearts, the upper tier represents the royal palace, although the action is not confined to being mutually exclusive. Director, Daniel Winder has used the space well to keep the action feeling fresh and interesting.
Despite its leaning to pantomime, there are some serious issues introduced, all interspersed with Luke Bateman’s wonderful score. There are some very catchy tunes in there as well as a couple of heart wrenching ballads.
Tori Allen-Martin is delightful as Chelsea, taking the type of character you might see on an episode of Jeremy Kyle, giving her some warmth, and allowing the audience to fall in love with her, in much the same way as her prince has done.
Christian James is very engaging as Bertie, and while you’re left wondering if anyone could really be that dim, it’s all played for laughs. James’ beautiful singing voice gives added credence to the score, and his musical hits medley is worth the ticket price alone.
The standout performance of the night comes from Andrea Miller, playing two roles. In the first she is the sex-mad sixty-nine-year-old grandmother, Vera, who runs a sexting business on the side, in the other she is the quintessentially regal, but nevertheless potty mouthed Queen Mary. Both roles give Miller the material to flex her comedy muscles, and the audience adored it.
H.R.Haitch is going to be a Marmite kind of musical for most audiences, it’s transparent and crass, but jolly good fun. It’s certainly enjoyable to spend the evening drawing comparisons between the world depicted here and our own world. Don’t go along expecting an episode of The Crown, and instead be prepared for sitcom verging on panto, with the added benefit of an enjoyable score.