Back, in the midsts of time, royal weddings were so easy. The reigning monarch would check their progeny and marry them off to another monarch’s child thus securing alliances and securing their own future. Love was never a feature of the deal but if it happened between the youngsters then that was just an added bonus. Nowadays, prince and princesses of the realm, lead a more normal life. They go off to school, university and then jobs. They get to meet and mix with, ordinary members of the public and, who knows, maybe they even get to fall in love all by themselves. This then is the central premise behind H. R. Haitch which recently opened at the Union Theatre.
London 2011 and revolution is in the air. The coalition government has fallen and there is a new party in charge under a new Prime Minister Nathan (Prince Plockey). One of the people that voted for Nathan is young Chelsea Taylor (Tori Allen-Martin), daughter of Barking pub landlord Brian (Christopher Lyne). She is a simple girl, who shares her home with her dad and randy grandmother Vera (Andrea Miller) and her ‘religious’ uncle Vernon (Prince Plockey). Their lives are hard and they are precariously clinging on to their livelihood as the gentrification of the East End marches inexorably on. The Taylor’s lives are a million miles away from those of the royal family, headed by Queen Mary (Andrea Miller). But even the royals pampered existence comes with problems. Heir to the throne, Prince Richard (Christopher Lyne) is getting on it years and wonders if his time will ever come, and his daughter, the Princess Victoria (Emily Jane Kerr) is not happy as, despite being the eldest, under the male-preference primogeniture rules, the crown will eventually pass to her younger brother, the rather gormless chinless wonder, Prince Albert (Christian James), who has been shielded from the world and the media for the past twenty years. So, we have two families that under normal conditions would never pass each other on the street, let alone meet. But fate has played her hand and decided that love should unite two of them and maybe make some magic for a country suffering austerity and dreading hosting the Olympics.
H. R. Haitch has been completely revised by Maz Evans (book and lyrics) and Luke Bateman (composer) from the original first seen in 2014. On the whole, the updating works and there are lots and lots of references back to events in 2011 using 2018 thinking – such as referendums and interesting wordplay with terms that sound like Brexit. On the whole, these worked – though the obsession with cheap taxis did start to grate with me after a while. I have to say the plot has a few holes in it – both constitutional and logical, but considering the comic nature of the story, this is not so much of a problem. Luke’s and Maz obviously work well together and one or two of the songs – ‘Life In The Old Dog Yet’ and ‘Tomorrow – Who Knows?’ – really are excellent.
I really liked the dual nature of the roles played by Christopher Lyne, Andrea Miller and Prince Plockey, particularly Miller as a surprisingly refreshing queen with one hat and the world’s oldest sex addict – with a side business in mobile-phone porn. And speaking of hats, full credit to both the cast and costume designer Maddy Ross-Masson for the speed in which they changed from their East End to royal clothes and vice versa. Both of the leads were in fine voice, and Allen-Martin really captured a, with no disrespect intended, East End chav of the highest order. I loved the way she illustrated her life by taking ‘Chelfies’ – which instantly appeared on the screen in Justin Williams and Johnny Rust’s wonderful pub set. My favourite character was definitely Emily Jane Kerr’s portrayal of Princess Victoria – which felt so authentic I wouldn’t be surprised to see her at a garden party shaking hands and asking people ‘so what do you do then?’
Overall, I liked H. R. Haitch. Whilst I thought it was slightly too long, particularly in the first act, where it felt like there was a definite dip in pace, it was actually a rather clever piece that was pretty entertaining all through. Director Daniel Winder makes full use of the stage and the quick change talents of his cast – not to mention their range of accents – to deliver a nice piece of musical theatre.
Review by Terry Eastham
London, 2011. The Olympics are doomed, the East End is being gentrified for houses no-one can afford, Amy Winehouse has died, and Adele’s released her second album. It’s been a tough year.
But, in a world where Kim Kardashian can’t stay married for a whole TV series, love has blossomed between feisty East Ender Chelsea and dopey toff Bertie. He’s never going to win Mastermind, but he won Chelsea’s heart when he boned her trout at catering college.
Its 2012 and Chelsea’s future is bright. She has a new man and there’s a new progressive Prime Minister to light the days ahead (#blessed). The media can stick their obsession with the identity of Prince Albert, the secret royal who’s been in hiding for 20 years.
Bertie has something big to tell Chelsea. He’s down on one knee, but it’s not a ring he has in store… it’s a crown. And Chelsea will soon discover that travelling from Barking to Buckingham Palace takes more than a topped-up Oyster Card.
Chelsea – Tori Allen-Martin
Bertie (Prince Albert) – Christian James
Princess Victoria – Emily Jane Kerr
Brian Taylor / Prince Richard – Christopher Lyne
Vera / Queen Mary – Andrea Miller
Vernon / Nathan – Prince Plockey
Director – Daniel Winder
Choreographer – Lily Howkins
Musical Director – Oli George Rew
Set Design – Justin Williams & Jonny Rust
Lighting Design – Ben Jacobs
Costume Design – Maddy Ross-Masson
Production Manager – Ben O’Grady
AV Editor – Serra Erkli
Stage Manager – Lorrell Rawlins
Producers – Paul Virides for Shrapnel Theatre
Co-Producer – Sofi Berenger for Iris Theatre
Associate Producer – Christina Sturken
A Right Royal Musical Comedy
MUSIC BY Luke Bateman
BOOK & LYRICS BY Maz Evans
9th May – 2nd June 2018