H.R.Haitch at The Union Theatre, Southwark, London
“When the show is good it is very good indeed!”
I always claim that I dislike musicals and, yet, when I go and watch them I am always surprised how much I love them. This show is a case in point. I know creating a new musical is a time-consuming task - and such a risk, both critically and financially. So full credit to the production team for their determination to get this show on. It started life some four years ago when the original lightbulb idea glowed and has obviously grown in confidence ever since; perhaps the story has been overtaken by real-life events, the absurdities of which have not been ignored by the talented creators. Even though H.R.Haitch is set in 2011, the topical jokes and references fly by at breakneck speed.
To have such a silly story work - the royal heir’s identity has been kept secret for twenty years, in the meantime he has fallen in love with a ‘commoner’ from Barking - means it has to hang on the skills and likeability of the cast.
Here it succeeds. The royal couple (mixed race and different class, no less) are played with supreme confidence by Tori Allen-Martin and Christian James. Tori plays Chelsea - a bubbly, joyous character - and manages to show a superb range of emotions and singing styles throughout.
She is matched by Christian’s Prince Albert - an idiot of Wooster proportion. Christian James not only handles the verbal jokes and physical slapstick, he has a voice to match the many styles thrown at him. He’s a young Michael Crawford and I thought his presence stole the show.
The rest of the ensemble of six also have their own stunning solos. Emily Jane Kerr revels in the nastiness of Princess Victoria. Christopher Lyne’s publican Bryan is so touching and real, compared to his inept Prince Richard. Andrea Miller has the presents Vera (a lady of a certain age who still has an enormous sexual appetite), but sadly her showstopper just mis-fires - whereas her Queen Mary is an unforgettable foul-mouthed creation deserving of a right royal ‘bloody’ solo!
Finally, Prince Plockey plays Uncle Vernon in Barking and Prime Minister Nathan at the Palace, rounding off a troupe of incredibly talented performers.
H.R.Haitch is billed as a musical comedy - and there it doesn’t lie. It’s a rags-to-riches tale that has its heart on its sleeve and its tongue firmly planted in the cheek. The laughs come freely and the songs are clever, witty and, in turn, surprisingly touching and emotional: some are very hummable! The show somehow lets itself down only on the some loose comedy timing and sticky choreography - but, let’s face it, when the show is good it is very good indeed!
Photography: Nick Rutter
Venue: Union Theatre, 204 Union Street, London SE1 0LX
Running: Until Saturday 2nd June 2018 at 7.30pm (no Monday performances)
Saturday and Sunday Matinees at 2.30pm
Running Time: 2hr30m (with an interval)
Tickets: £22.50 (£20 concessions, £15 U16)
www.uniontheatre.biz - 020 7261 9876
Producers: Shrapnel Theatre and Iris Theatre
Director: Daniel Winder
Book & Lyrics: Maz Evans
Music: Luke Bateman
Choreography: Lily Howkins
Set Design: Justin Williams and Jonny Rust