Just in time for the royal wedding this weekend, H.R.Haitch comes to the Union Theatre. But this musical, with book and lyrics from Maz Evans, holds rich and poor together in sickness rather than in health. Ed Nightingale reviews:

It’s 2011: a time before Brexit and Trump, before the Olympics united our kingdom, before snap elections and gammon-faced politicians. H.R.Haitch is meant to be a wistful, nostalgic look at the past – can we really be nostalgic for a mere seven years ago? Instead, this new musical feels dated, chock full of tired and repetitive jokes that induce little more than a groan.

H.R.Haitch Union Theatre

Tori Allen-Martin & Christian James (image courtesy of Nick Rutter)

The fairytale narrative revolves around gormless Prince Bertie (Christian James) who is yet to reveal to his commoner girlfriend Chelsea (Tori Allen-Martin) that he’s a Royal, causing a rift between love and duty. In fact, she’s staunchly opposed to the royal family and spends her time cooking canapés in her father’s pub.

Yes, this is a British musical set in a pub.

H.R.Haitch Union Theatre

Tori Allen-Martin, Prince Plockey, Andrea Miller, Chistopher Lyne & Emily Jane Kerr (image courtesy of Nick Rutter)

If the setting is 2011, then H.R.Haitch’s politics are stuck somewhere in the 1970s. The story alone is silly enough, but its additionally lumbered with crass humour that has the audience laughing both at the working class and at a Royal Family who represent the very worst in homophobic, racist, elitist Britain.

The show’s characterisation is based on lazy stereotypes. As the Essex girl lover of the prince, Martin is plucked straight out of TOWIE, frequently taking “chelfies”, joking about vajazzles and making sexual puns. Her storyline of overcoming the odds has the potential to be empowering, if it weren’t for the narrative inclusion of nemesis Princess Victoria (Emily Jane Kerr). This conniving, manipulative antagonist only perpetuates the notion that women are to be forever pitted against one another, a regressive interpretation given the gender climate today.

H.R.Haitch Union Theatre

Prince Plockey & Andrea Miller (image courtesy of Nick Rutter)

As Bertie, James is one Hugh Grant role away from a bumbling buffoon, while Prime Minister Nathan (Prince Plockey) is simply the butt of a gay joke that leaves nothing but a sour taste in the mouth. The spotlight is utterly stolen by Andrea Miller as both the raunchy Vera and Queen Mary herself. But with such vile, potty-mouthed characters to portray, even that plaudit isn’t necessarily a good thing.

But perhaps most frustrating of all is that H.R.Haitch does have heart. Luke Bateman’s score contains plenty of sloppy ballads (one of which resorts to simply naming other, better songs) but is mostly jolly. However, any poignant themes of finding love or female empowerment are completely undermined, immediately followed as they are by another crass, superficial joke. On the whole, the cast have a natural sense of comic timing, even if the one-liners sometimes shock more than they delight. Allen-Martin in particular has a wonderfully rich tone to her voice that is shamefully underused.

H.R.Haitch Union Theatre

Tori Allen-Martin (image courtesy of Nick Rutter)

H.R.Haitch‘s nostalgia should remind us of ‘the good old days’. But there’s nothing good nor pleasantly old here. It’s meant to be British to the core, but if this is Britain then God save us all.

 

 

★☆☆☆☆

H.R.Haitch runs at the Union Theatre until 2 June 2018. For further information, please visit the venue website.