Friday, 6 March 2020

 

Les Enfants Terribles' United Queendom at Kensington Palace


Imagine you're in Kensington Palace on the day of King George II's birthday. If you're lucky, you may get an invite to the royal party, and enjoy the company of the likes of Queen Caroline of Ansbach and the king's mistress, Henrietta Howard, Countess of Suffolk. And just a few rooms away from the big feast there is the allure of joining a salon with artistic, literary, and political greats. It's rumoured Jonathan Swift might be the next guest of honour. Are you ready for the most decadent night of your life?!

There are very few theatre companies that are recognised and renowned from their name alone. Mischief Theatre comes to mind, whose slapstick humour from The Play That Goes Wrong translated perfectly to mainstream television in their BBC series The Goes Wrong Show. 

And Les Enfants Terribles is another. Whether they create a fantastical and imaginative journey into wonderland in the vaults under Waterloo station, or take audiences on an informative and entertaining lesson through British history at one of the royal palaces, their immersive approach to storytelling is unlike anything else I've experienced in London's theatres – and beyond.

And that's why any new show from this exciting and unique company is always one to keep your eyes on. Their latest adventure, United Queendom at Kensington Palace, which details the relationship between of King George II's wife Caroline and his mistress Henrietta, has only just opened and is already sold out for the entire run. That's how much faith London theatre lovers have in the company, and rightfully so.

As the audience is whisked away into different rooms of the Palace after hours, the temptation of the lavish birthday party within reach, you uncover the real tale of the two women pitted against each other in history books. The story of wife and mistress is so easy assumed to be one filled with conflict, when in fact there was a mutual trust and respect that made them so powerful, beyond what they've been given credit for.

Several decades before Eliza Schuyler Hamilton sings about the importance of having the story of women heard, Caroline and Henrietta rewrite theirs in a powerful sequence breaking the boundaries of history in Kensington Palace. And with the diverse casting, not to mention a mean rap earlier on in the performance, that isn't where the likeness with hit show Hamilton ends. After all, King George III in the Lin-Manuel Miranda musical is the grandson of King George II in United Queendom – both of which turn into comic relief through ramped up silliness.

Not knowing anything about Caroline and Henrietta before the start of the show, the way their stories came to life through a mixture of interactive scenes incorporating the genuine rooms they would've wandered through and paintings they would've seen was ingenious and a very clever way to make quite dense material a lot of fun to absorb. It did feel a little like a history lesson at times, as whole lives were recounted at length, but for the most part the heightened portrayals and swift movements between scenes, created a constantly surprising theatrical experience.

While United Queendom did not evoke quite the same level of wonder and awe as Alice's Adventures Underground did, it was still an exciting and different experience from the average West End show. In 90 minutes you're whizzed through British history and Kensington Palace after hours (a once-in-a-lifetime chance alone) by a fantastic cast, donning gorgeously detailed and vibrant costumes and make-up that makes you believe you've wandered into a more interesting and eccentric version of history than would have been the reality. Sure, some of the monologues were a bit long and detailed, but with a drink in hand, never quite knowing what surprise is waiting around the corner, the theatrical magic more than makes up for this.


Photo by: Gail Harland Photography



United Queendom is currently playing at Kensington Palace until 30 March 2020. While tickets are sold out, have a look on the official website in case the run extends or tickets are returned (not sure either of these are an option, but fingers crossed for those who were unlucky getting tickets before!).


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