I don’t think I’ve ever had such a terrible train journey to London as I did when I went to watch H.R.Haitch at the Union Theatre, but my goodness it was the breath of fresh air that I needed. And it’s also what London needs in such a turbulent political landscape.
H.R.Haitch was first commissioned by Iris Theatre’s Workin Process scheme, and has since been reimagined to the fully-staged form it’s now in at the Union Theatre in Southwark. In modern day London, East Ender Chelsea and well-to-do, although a little slow, Bertie have found love. In a world where the media is obsessed with finding the the whereabouts of Prince Albert who has been off the radar for 20 years, Chelsea doesn’t care. In fact, she thinks the UK would be better off without the monarchy altogether. She’s so in love and is waiting for her beloved Bertie to pop the question, but when he gets down on one knee, it’s not a ring he’s offering. Instead, he’s offering Chelsea the crown. Set in 2011, we were forced to cast our minds back 6 and a half years. We had to remember what living in a different world was like, with the London Olympics around the corner, no such thing as Uber, David Bowie and George Michael were still alive, and Brad and Angie were the world’s biggest powercouple.
H.R.Haitch stars Tori Allen-Martin as Chelsea and Christian James as Bertie, with music by Luke Bateman and book by Maz Evans. This is a real comic love story that has really found its feet, and has hit the Off West End circuit at a coincidentally apt time – with the royal wedding just around the corner. I didn’t love the score and I think there’s still a little bit of work to be done to make it a viable contender amongst the new musicals that are coming out of London left, right and centre, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. The writing was witty, and the jokes were entertaining, even if some went over the heads of some of the audience.
What H.R.Haitch managed to capture so brilliantly was the age of social media. The nods to David Milliband’s bacon sandwich eating, David Cameron’s pig antics and the use of risque hashtags points to the audience H.R.Haitch is trying to capture the attention of frequent users of social media, and this worked really well for me. I’m 23, and spent my teen years growing up with social media (although I can’t say the stress of who to put in mt top friends on Bebo didn’t affect poor 13 year old Sophie). It’s where I get all my information from, and exclusively use the BBC news app to verify celebrity deaths. Twitter accounts have been created for many of the characters for them to establish a voice, and it’s truly tunes into the idea that good marketing requires social. And I love it.
But the show was well and truly stolen by Emily Jane Kerr as Princess Victoria, Bertie’s older sister who will do anything for the crown. Including blackmailing the newly elected Prime Minister (Prince Plockey, also playing Chelsea’s Uncle Vernon) into putting on a referendum which would allow her to become queen over the true heirs. Her voice truly packed a punch, and she is a character no audience member can truly hate, even if what she did was ghastly. Other characters included Chelsea’s unfiltered grandmother, Vera, and Bertie’s outspoken grandmother, Queen Mary, (both played by Andrea Miller), Chelsea’s father, Brian, and Bertie’s father, Prince Richard, who seems an awful like a caricature of our own heir to the throne, Prince Charles (both played by Christopher Lyne).
I was really able to connect with Chelsea, and for the first time in a long time in the theatre, I cried. I felt what she felt, and wanted her to win. Theatre needs the strong female characters that Chelsea and Princess Victoria brought to this production, and I was bowled over by how brilliantly the characters were thought out. What I thought would be a slightly tacky comedy ended up being a beautiful tribute to female strength.
H.R.Haitch doesn’t take itself too seriously, which I think a lot of musicals are failing to do at the moment (with the only one springing to mind of late being Eugenius). It combines pop culture with UK politics in the most perfect way. Our two new royal wives have nothing on Chelsea, who is your typical 20-something with a heart of gold, but definitely not your typical princess. I thought the choreography was lacking, with nothing revolutionary being performed, however the Union Theatre has quite a small space and I understand why it had to be toned down.
Lighting Design: 9/10
Sound Design: 7/10
Set Design: 7/10
Costume Design: 8/10
Audience Engagement: 8/10
This was my first trip to the Union Theatre in Southwark, and whilst the Old Union Arches a brilliant area for the theatre to be, I really struggled with the seats. It’s rarely my choice to sit on the front row (mainly because you get spat on), but it was my only option at H.R.Haitch. The seat wasn’t comfortable and I felt like I had to shrink into the seat as much as possible to stop myself from tripping the cast. I would definitely return to the Union Theatre, but I’d be fighting for a seat slightly further back next time. Or, you know, try to arrive on time and not be so flustered that I can’t think straight for the first five minutes on the show.
H.R.Haitch is playing at Union Theatre until 2nd June.