United Queendom is the latest immersive offering from renowned theatre company Les Enfants Terribles. Performed on site in Kensington Palace, the show provides audience members with after hours access to the building, while taking them back in time to the court of King George II on the night of his birthday celebrations. The story predominantly focuses on his wife Queen Caroline and Mistress Henrietta Howard, although Lavinia Co-op’s charismatic star turn as the King might make you wish otherwise.
The concept is exciting but the delivery unfortunately falls short. The plot is extremely thin on the ground, centred on tensions between the male and female factions in court and who really wielded the power, propagating the view that it was Queen Caroline in charge. It comes across as a rather childish gender battle, with the men petulantly claiming King George to be all powerful, while the women mock and wink knowingly. Queen Caroline and Henrietta Howard may well be strong women worth celebrating but they are not quite done justice here. There is a lack of anything substantial that takes place and we find out very little about either character. One notable exception is a brief stop in a salon where we learn about Queen Caroline’s interest in science and philosophy, but even this feels a bit like a school history lesson.
The show appears to be torn between providing a pedagogical tour of the court and putting on an innovative and rebellious theatre performance; sadly each holds the other back and it fails at both. That’s not to say there aren’t moments of entertainment and humour. The actors are fully committed and their energy and verve are what just about carries the show through. The exclusive access to the palace also feels special but it comes at a price. As an audience member you are expected to engage with the cast, physically and verbally responding to their cues on multiple occasions. Some will love the interaction but if you prefer to watch from the sidelines you may feel uncomfortable at times.
The costumes and setting are stunning but there is too much reliance on this and the expectation that the audience will be satisfied with the mere notion of being at court. The initial buzz soon wears off and the feeling of something being lacking remains. For the relatively hefty price tag you might prefer to visit the palace at your own leisure under more typical circumstances.