Union Theatre, London – until 2 June 2018
As Royal Wedding fever hits the UK this week what better way than to spend an evening at a right royal musical comedy? I’m an avid viewer of The Windsors, which is a TV sit-com and a spoof on what one might think (or secretly hope) the Royals are like behind closed doors. I’d hoped on reading the synopsis that H.R. Haitch was on a similar wavelength. However, what becomes abundantly clear is, where the television programme excels, this production falls very short of receiving any royal approval.
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.
Bertie is, unbeknown to anti-monarchist Chelsea, the secret Prince Albert, who has been allowed to live amongst the people for the past 20 years. However, with an elderly Queen, and a buffoon of a father, it is time to take his royal duties seriously and return to the palace.
H.R. Haitch, first written in 2015, stars Tori Allen-Martin as Chelsea, with music by Luke Bateman (Mr Popper’s Penguins) and book and lyrics by Maz Evans.
Let’s look at the positives first. There are some really nice performances in this show, not least by Allen-Martin (Chelsea) who gives a strong vocal performance during the musical numbers. Grandmother/Queen, played by Andrea Miller, has us chuckling equally as both brash, blousy grandma and stone-faced, not suffering fools gladly, Queen. Comedy timing for both Allen-Martin and Miller is perfect throughout. The rest of the cast supports admirably and each has their moment to shine.
However it was the writing and possibly some of the direction, that really gave me cause for concern. Topical references to matters such as Uber with the line “if only London had an affordable taxi service” (or words to that effect) was amusing initially and the audience laughed. Unfortunately it was a laboured, hugely repetitive joke, which on its last outing of the night fell stony flat.
(Credit of Nick Rutter)
Some of the over emphasis of characterisation, particularly with self-proclaimed chav selfie-queen Chelsea, was initially funny. However they rapidly descended into pantomime caricatures. A more subtle approach would, I feel, have been more effective and probably won just as many laughs.
What promised to be a fun evening gave way to a feeling of irritating awkwardness. There were indeed some nice touches, but overall it made me feel like it was a wasted opportunity. Ultimately, it promised so much but delivered very little. It is ideally suited to the Union Theatre who is known for championing new writing and bold projects. Unfortunately this one just didn’t hit the mark and certainly didn’t receive my royal approval that’s for sure. That said, it would be the ideal antidote for an Anti-Royalist or football loathing person this coming weekend.
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