IMAGINE learning your dad was leaving home to set up camp outside the Houses of Parliament in protest at the UK’s foreign policy.
That’s what happened to Pete Haw, whose father Brian and his array of anti-war placards became a landmark in Parliament Square in the decade before his death two years ago.
Pete, who was at university when Brian announced his plans to decamp to a small tent on Westminster’s doorstep, admits battling feelings of anger and resentment but says ultimately his father’s cause was a great source of pride.
Now 31 and a primary school teacher, he is helping preserve his father’s legacy through his involvement in a new musical, According to Brian Haw.
The show, brought to Riverside Studios by Youth Music Theatre (YMT) UK, explores the impact of Brian’s actions not just on his family but on millions of people in the UK and across the world.
Brian had actually made a recording for the show when it was in its infancy but Pete only became involved after his father’s death, when he stumbled across an online discussion.
“Obviously Dad was a very inspiring person but it showed a massive commitment to him that someone had taken these great lengths to make sure his memory lives on,” he says. “From what I’ve seen, the show’s going to be phenomenal. It’s going to be touching and educational.”
The musical is not about Brian himself but those touched by his campaign, with producers promising to look at both sides of the argument.
Pete remained close to his father throughout his life, initially making the journey from university in Birmingham, where he now lives, three or four times a week.
"He didn’t expect us to understand fully why he was going. It left a big gap in our lives and it was very lonely at times, but as we grew older it became so much more understandable,” he said. "It’s only natural that there were times I felt angry or resentful but I came to realise those are very selfish emotions and I hope I’m a better person for it."
According to Brian Haw is one of four shows YMT is producing at the Hammersmith venue, where the company first developed hit West End show Loserville.
Jon Bromwich is executive producer of the theatre group, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary and is the UK’s largest commissioner of new musical theatre.
He talks excitedly about this season, which ranges from featuring new cutting-edge work like the Brian Haw piece, which has been seven years in production, to a new version of Lindsay Kemp’s celebrated Variete.
“We’ve created some shows which are totally about young people’s experiences but we’ve also got shows like Variete, which is about explaining the history of theatre in this country,” he says. "This is youth theatre but audiences can expect something which sits within a professional season of work."
Of course he would say that, but the success of Loserville, which earned an Olivier Award nomination after being developed by YMT, speaks for itself.
This new production is the first time legendary silent performer Lindsay Kemp has allowed his work to be restaged without featuring him.
Kinny Gardner, who was part of the original cast in 1996, takes up the directorial reins, with composer Carlos Miranda recreating the score for the expanded YMT cast.
Gardner was both nervous and excited at being given the privilege of directing the musical, about a circus sideshow in Weimar Germany.
“When Lindsay gave his permission and Carlos agreed to get involved it was a no-brainer,” he says. "I’m constantly nervous. I live in a state of abject fear but Lindsay’s been very supportive."
Although Gardner has tried to stay true to the original and its seedy and mysterious world of intrigue, there are some notable changes. The boy playing Lindsay, for example, sings, in contrast to the dance and mime artist.
As for Kinny’s original role, that of the unnaturally hirsute Dog Boy, there’s a pang of jealousy when he describes the young actor stepping into his furry shoes.
“He’s the youngest boy in the cast and he’s tiny but he’s got this fantastic voice and he’s going to steal the show,” he says.
YMT’s summer season at Riverside Studios runs from August 20 to September 1. Visit www.riversidestudios.co.uk or call the box office on 020 8237 1111 for full listings and tickets.