Much like a mercurial monarch, Kensington Palace gives with one hand and takes away with the other.
United Queendom, a new immersive work by Les Enfants Terribles commissioned by Historic Royal Palaces, weaves the story of George II’s wife Caroline and his mistress Henrietta through the palace. It is keen to show its heroines as proto-feminists and activists, and raise questions about who writes our history books. These are important, interesting ideas and it’s a shame they’re not explored with a touch more nuance and heart.
This is a show with huge potential. The palace itself is a remarkable venue and it does a lot of heavy lifting in terms of scene-setting, but it also places limits on anything that might risk damage, which means the show rests quite lightly on the palace’s surface.
The show is at its best when it’s gleefully anachronistic. Susan Kulkarni’s costumes and Victoria Stride’s hair and make-up are truly superb in this respect – Georgian finery with a neon edge.
There are flashes of brilliance when the balance between past and future is spot-on. An opera/rap mash-up performed by James Hastings and Lucy Reynolds extolling Caroline’s proto-feminist credentials is joyous. Hastings is excellent throughout, with impeccable comic timing and impressive musical skills. Nadia Sohawon is very charismatic, as is Lavinia Co-op, who channels Joel Grey in Cabaret in their portrayal of the king.
While the novelty and beauty of Kensington Palace is undeniable, the setting prevents United Queendom from becoming a fully fledged piece of immersive theatre. You’re promised a party as you enter, but what you get is an unusually glamorous history lesson.