Union Theatre, London – until 2 June 2018
As Kensington Palace gears up for one royal wedding, Iris Theatre is jumping down the aisle first with its musical take on stately nuptials, H.R. Haitch, now playing at the Union Theatre. And though it features a mixed-race woman (like Meghan) marrying a prince, such is the development time for musicals that it is actually the fact that she is a ‘commoner’ (like Kate, apparently) that proves the inspiration here.
For aspiring canapé-chef Chelsea is Barking born and bred, and a strident anti-monarchist to boot. And she’s pretty excited about her suspicions that her nice-but-dim boyfriend Bertie is going to propose. Thing is, Bertie is actually Prince Albert – heir to the British throne and (for reasons I’m not sure we ever really understand) living incognito among the people. Will Queen Mary accept her? Can the older Princess Victoria thwart the line of succession? And what is it with politicians and pigs…?
Maz Evans’ book sets H.R. Haitch in 2011, a pre-Uber, pre-Brexit, pre-Olympics time which allows for a rapid-fire, pun-heavy opening scene in Chelsea’s father’s pub which is genuinely hilarious. And like so many comedians, the show doesn’t know quite when to stop and so much here is turned into running jokes which are done to death. The inclination to farce is best when depicting a viciously foul-mouthed Royal Family, particularly a brilliantly crude queen.
And Daniel Winder’s production is best when it remains amiably daft, deepened by some rich performances and led by a break-out turn from Tori Allen-Martin as Chelsea. Superficially, she’s Essex through and through (the selfie running gag is one that does work) but Allen-Martin layers in pathos and personality by the pound. She’s fearless and funny and consistently elevates the work. Andrea Miller also succeeds vividly as the profane monarch and a randy granny with a nimble turn of…phrase.
Luke Bateman’s score sounds appealing enough from Oli George Rew’s piano but never really quite establishes its own coherent identity, as it skips from influences including G+S, Les Mis and the inevitable Lionel Bart. But Justin Williams’ set makes inventive use of the space of the Union and the overall feel is one of knockabout fun (check the Black Panther references, and the Adele skit) which begs not to be taken too seriously.