A new musical named H.R.Haitch is about to hit London’s Union Theatre. Before it officially opens I had the chance to find out more from its leading lady Tori Allen-Martin:
H.R.Haitch is a new musical. Can you briefly tell us what it is about?
H.R.Haitch is about a prince (Bertie) who has lived in anonymity since the death of his mother, until now. The official unveiling is imminent but there’s one problem… his girlfriend, our protagonist Chelsea (who I play) is a mixed-race chef from Barking – daughter of a pub landlord, a Page 3 model and also a staunch republican who hates the royal family with every inch of her being! Thing is Bertie loves her more than anything and wants to marry her. So the show is about these two unlikely worlds colliding and how they muddle through…. or don’t. You’ll have to come and see it to find out!
What can audiences expect from H.R.Haitch?
To laugh. It’s hilarious. It takes a lot to make me laugh out loud and this show had me crying in rehearsals. The script is brilliant and the cast are epic. It’s a really good night out. It’s political and brave too – it tells a lot of truths that we’re often too afraid to say out loud, but it uses humour to get through it. It’s a show with a lot of heart. Despite being a comedy – the characters are so well drawn. You really care about them and you want them to win. It’s really good fun and at its heart it’s about trying to do the right thing. Love wins here. And on top of that it’s got really catchy songs- proper ear worm numbers. You’ll be stuck with them for days!
Tell us about your character, Chelsea.
She’s a real 21st century heroine I think. A leading lady for millennials! She’s principled and passionate and she’s not afraid to speak her mind. She loves her family and she’s not afraid to be herself. She’s unapologetically real and I love that about her – she’s braver than most people I know. She’s completely what you see is what you get and if she were real I’d want her to be my best friend.
Can you sum up the show in 3 words?
Ridiculous, heart-warming, fun
As an artist yourself you have had a very successful, varied career including performer, song writer and producer. Which do you prefer?
I can’t really choose. I think we live in a slash (/) generation – most people are realising they don’t have to be one thing. People are starting to break out of the confines of the boxes other people try and stick them in and that’s exciting. We’re the disrupters who dance to the beat of our own drums. I never really fitted in anywhere and I kept being told how to be or sing or act and I had had enough so I started creating my own work – work for me and for friends going through similar frustrations. I realised I didn’t have to choose and that’s a much more comfortable place to live. You can never please everyone and you’ll die trying. I only produce because no one else would take a risk on the type of work I wanted to create so if I could give one up it’d be that. There are people far more suited to that job than me, I’d rather be in the room than negotiating contracts, but you’ve got to be the change you want to see so I learnt how to produce along the way, and I guess I will continue to produce for as long as it takes! But in terms of writing, singing and acting, I could never chose and I feel so lucky to have been able to work in all fields.
Your latest show, The Hardest One, sold out at The Other Palace. How did this feel?
Wonderful! It was a huge shock because we didn’t do any PR. Just my social media platforms. And the first one sold out with more than a week to go so we added a second date and then that sold out! It’s the most personal thing I’ve ever written or performed and by far the most terrifying thing I’ve ever done so the support was incredible and much needed!!! Because I was shi**ing it! I wondered about it, about why people seemed to react so well and I think it’s because it was real. It was truthful and I think people really respond to truth. We’re getting sick of being fed these filtered, amped up versions of each other. It’s really refreshing to see someone go ‘do you know what? I f*** up too. I got dumped and I wear Spanx cos I can’t stop eating pizza and I don’t know what the hell I’m doing with my life. I’m 30 and I still live at home’ – or whatever your worry is. Everyone’s looking for a hand to walk them home and I wanted to be that. I wanted an hour where people could laugh at their own misfortune via mine, and feel supported and less lonely. I wanted them to be able to leave the theatre thinking: I’m not a failure, I’m not fat, I’m not ugly, I’m not too this or too that or whatever else, and if I am I’ll own it. I’m just human. Because that’s the truth isn’t it? The reaction taught me to keep being brave and to write from truth, always. Don’t try and spin the story. Just tell the story from your perspective and with honesty – that’s where we see each other. That’s where we feel something. That’s what matters.
Is it hard to take a step back into the performer role after you have been so heavily involved in the creative side on other shows?
Sometimes. I can’t help but think I’d have done it this way, or that way. But I think it can also make me quite a good mediator because I can see it from both sides. Like, if the cast are moaning or the director is going too hard, I can maybe suggest how the other side might be feeling. And I think I’ve learnt so much about how to be in each scenario by doing both. I realise how annoying and selfish actors can be sometimes and how relentless and whip cracking creatives can be! So I hope it makes me a little bit better behaved. I absolutely catch myself though on the odd day in a sulk or something and I’m like – woman up! I definitely miss the other side when I’m not across both.
Finally. Why should people see H.R.Haitch at the Union Theatre?
Because it’s really bloomin’ good. Genuinely. It’s an opportunity to come and have a brilliant night out. To laugh, to cry, to enjoy yourself. It doesn’t take itself too seriously. And it’s new British writing that features a diverse ensemble cast – the type of actors who are often overlooked down to age, look or skin colour, and here we are all play cracking parts. It’s fresh and it’s exciting and it deserves a life and quite frankly the only way it’ll get one is by word of mouth and people turning up. Please support us – you won’t regret it!
H.R.Haitch opens at the Union Theatre, London on 9th May and runs until 2nd June. For information and tickets click here.