Reading the papers this week – or indeed most weeks – you have to wonder how being a princess could ever be considered a fairy tale ending. Sure, you might bag yourself a handsome prince, but I think Meghan Markle would confirm by now that marrying into royalty also brings its fair share of trauma.
Spare a thought then for poor Chelsea in Maz Evans and Luke Bateman’s royal romcom H.R.Haitch, who’s about to discover her posh but dim boyfriend Bertie is actually Prince Albert, and second in line to the throne. Bertie’s been sheltered from public attention for the last 20 years, but his identity is about to be revealed and he wants Chelsea at his side when the big moment arrives. Which is all well and good, except she’s not exactly a believer in the merits of the monarchy, and is more than happy to rant about that fact to anyone who’ll listen. Meanwhile the new prime minister wants a referendum on the future of the royal family, Chelsea’s dad’s East End pub’s about to be shut down, and Bertie’s scheming older sister Victoria is tired of being spare to the heir just because she had the bad luck to be born female.
That’s a lot to get through in a couple of hours, but somehow it all comes together in this by-the-book romantic comedy about an unlikely couple who somehow overcome what would in real life certainly be insurmountable obstacles to find happiness. H.R.Haitch is enjoyably silly and entirely predictable, but there’s nothing wrong with that; so are most romantic comedies, after all. And because it’s set in the infinitely simpler time that was 2011, there are plenty of opportunities for humour at 2018’s expense. Granted some of these are rather over-milked (the Uber gag in particular gets old fast), and others feel ill-timed (wishing Ant and Dec a speedy recovery is a bit close to the bone) but there are enough genuine laughs in between to ensure the audience is kept entertained. Daniel Winder’s production also makes use of seamlessly integrated multimedia content, as a reminder that just outside the doors of the pub/palace, the world’s media lies in wait…
Likeable leads Tori Allen-Martin and Christian James lead a universally strong cast of six, three of whom – Andrea Miller, Christopher Lyne and Prince Plockey – appear in comically opposite dual roles that further highlight the vastly different worlds in which Chelsea and Bertie live. Meanwhile Emily Jane Kerr quite literally sneers for England in a brilliant stand-out performance as the villain of the piece, Princess Victoria.
The songs are pleasantly catchy and for the most part keep the action moving along, with a repertoire that includes everything from heartfelt ballads to lively East End knees-ups. This varied musical menu allows the cast to showcase some impressive vocal talents, accompanied by musical director Oli George Rew, who’s discreetly installed on a piano in endangered Barking boozer the Dog and Duck.
Much like Chelsea and Bertie’s romance, H.R.Haitch might not always be particularly elegant, but it’s good fun, and its heart is in the right place. And if nothing else, it gives us a couple of hours’ escape from wondering who’s going to walk Meghan down the aisle.
H.R. Haitch is at the Union Theatre until 2nd June.
Can’t see the map on iPhone? Try turning your phone to landscape and that should sort it. I don’t know why but I’m working on it… 😉