Above: Andrea Miller, Emily Jane Kerr, Christian James, Tori Allen-Martin, Prince Plockey and Christopher Lyne in H.R.Haitch. Photo: Nick Rutter
The Union Theatre has a good record for rediscovering lost musicals and presenting new ones, and H. R. Haitch seemed like a timely show as it deals with a royal wedding. A development of a piece originally workshopped in 2015, this was the work of composer Luke Bateman and writer/lyricist Maz Evans. With a hardworking cast of six on a two-level set, there was talent in evidence on stage but this was a curious evening.
In the first place, the basic setup seemed very simplistic: East End girl falls for mysterious man who turns out to be a reclusive royal prince. All very panto then, in fact Cinderella, and it was evident that the pantomime experience in several of the cast CVs will have come in very handy when trying to sell this story. Bateman’s music was pleasant if not striking, although the second act opening number briefly brought the show to life. Book and lyrics, however, were of another age and the whole piece felt like the kind of broad humour seen in end of the pier plays in the 1970s. I had not expected lyrics like “share a bag of nuts with the local sluts” and from a female writer too. All it needed was Sid James or Jimmy Edwards in the cast and the whole genre would have been recreated, although the writers are of course far too young to be able to remember those days.
The cast did their best, most of them playing two contrasting parts in the two families featured, one in an Essex pub, the other at the palace. No originality here of course: the Essex family were as stereotypical as their Royal counterparts, and about as believable. Among the cast, Andrea Miller contributed a couple of full-blooded portrayals, and Christopher Lyne worked well opposite her although his royal prince was greatly indebted to Harry Enfield in The Windsors. Emily Jane Kerr almost made sense of Princess Victoria, and Tori Allen-Martin, although playing the most stereotypical character in the cast, really made something of Chelsea, and rose above the caricature as written.
Director Daniel Winder worked wonders with the material and the video inserts on the pub TV were effective, although too often these served only to remind us that the show was set in 2011. This was a curious premise, mostly it seemed to enable gags about events that had not then occurred, although this was a difficult concept for the audience, with this being such a recent past. The writer mentions Spitting Image (and My Fair Lady, heaven forbid) in the programme and there was certainly some of the feel of that programme – but that was a long time ago and again added to the curiously dated air of the show.
Occasional gags that worked were then overplayed, like the Uber reference, until both audience and cast groaned inwardly when they came round once again. Too often, it felt like so many student shows at Edinburgh, with a good sketch idea over-extended and an unfortunate tendency to find working class people intrinsically funny. If the show has a future it may well be with those amateur companies still keeping the concept of seaside plays alive; but it seemed out of place at the Union.
Below: Tori Allen-Martin, Prince Plockey, Andrea Miller, Chistopher Lyne and Emily Jane Kerr in H.R.Haitch. Photo: Nick Rutter