tue 20/10/2020

United Queendom, Kensington Palace review - rollicking royal tale | reviews, news & interviews

United Queendom, Kensington Palace review - rollicking royal tale

United Queendom, Kensington Palace review - rollicking royal tale

Intriguing, enjoyable immersion in Georgian court intrigue

Yasmin Keita (left) as Henrietta and Miranda Heath as CarolineGail Harland

Les Enfants Terribles is the theatre company behind several interesting immersive projects, including Alice's Adventures Underground and Inside Pussy Riot.

Les Enfants Terribles is the theatre company behind several interesting immersive projects, including Alice's Adventures Underground and Inside Pussy Riot. Now it has joined forces with Historic Royal Palaces to tell the story of two women integral to the Georgian crown – George II's wife, Queen Caroline, and his mistress Henrietta Howard.

The scene is set for the King's birthday party in 1734, and a lowly servant (Christina Ngoyi) leads the audience – guests of the King for the evening – into Kensington Palace, where we will be immersed in the court's business, its behind-the-scenes intrigues and below-stairs gossip as we are led through each of the state rooms.

It's an auspicious occasion, not just for the celebration, but because it's the night when Henrietta (Yasmin Keita), knowing she has fallen out of the king's favour, tells Caroline (Miranda Heath) that she wants to leave the court. Whether she departs with the Queen's blessing will determine Henrietta's future prosperity.

After toasting the King, the audience is divided into two groups as each hears a version of the departure from either the Queen's or Henrietta's view, and we meet various servants and courtiers who tell tales about their masters, or how life at court is lived, from its sexual licence to dancing minuets and jockeying for position with the sovereigns.

I was in the Queen's group and I must say I learnt a lot about Caroline, not least that she often acted as regent for the King (the “power behind the throne”) while he spent time in their native Germany, that she was a cultured woman who valued learning and hosted salons, and that we have her to thank, at least in part, for popularising vaccination.

United Queendom's creators – writers Yassmin Abdel-Magied and Anthony Spargo and director Christa Harris – strive hard to give it contemporary resonance. They literally rewrite history to do so in describing the relationship between queen and mistress, give their story a queer and feminist subtext and, in the fiery exchanges between flat-Earther the Duke of Newcastle (played with peppery bombast by Richard Holt) and the Salonniere (Deborah Tracey, excellent), a follower of Isaac Newton, they draw a parallel with the fact-deniers of modern-day Britain.

There's a slight air of those historical museums where docents dress in period costume to trot out the facts, but this is a rollicking tale told with verve by the cast, particularly Stephan Boyce as the rakish Lord Hervey and Lucy Reynolds as the rapping Countess of Hertford. Thankfully the audience isn't forced into doing too much – although you do get several opportunities to bow or curtsey should you so wish.

The creators strive hard to give this piece contemporary resonance

rating

Editor Rating: 
3
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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