Monday 3 March 2020
A Royally Entertaining Evening
If These Women Could Speak To Us Now, What Would They Say?
History is, of course, written by narrators of a different time, people with a different set of beliefs and biases. Many of the historic records of Queen Caroline and Henrietta Howard were written by men of the Georgian era; United Queendom sets out to challenge these documented accounts, and asks why we should believe the stories that have been prescribed to us.
This immersive theatre experience, created by extraordinary company Les Enfant Terribles in partnership with the Historic Royal Palaces, highlights the stories of these two powerful women, and the possibilities that could have arose within the depths of their complicated and fascinating relationship alongside King George II.
It is impossible not to highlight the setting of the piece, I cannot express enough the wondrous experience of seeing a live performance within Kensington Palace. Each and every room you step into brims with history and beautiful decor, which adds to the authenticity of the story, coupling that with the stunning period costumes of the time makes it truly breathtaking.
What’s great about this particular piece is how accessible it is to its audiences. If, like me, you don’t have an extensive background in history, then the show acts as a great way to educate its audiences in the fascinating stories of these two women and the other characters of the time, and if you have a strong knowledge of the events foretold already, then you’ll pick up on the finer details whilst having your expectations shaken up along the way. Its aim is to educate and entertain in a fun and informative way; one particular moment that did this very well was when Lord Hervey (Stephan Boyce) raps about Henrietta Howard whilst Miss Vane (Nadia Sohawon) performs contemporary dance, it explores the timeline of this interesting woman’s life without taking itself too seriously; very reminiscent of Horrible Histories and really good fun.
Like the company’s famous production Alice’s Adventures Underground, this tale is told with the audience in a small group which helps to create the intimate interactive experience, and there are different pathways to explore, depending on whether you are welcomed into the higher classes of society or whether you must sneak into the palace through the more mischievous lower ranked Lords, Ladies and servants of the house. I was taken down the latter route which I was secretly pleased with as it came with lots of naughtiness and heaps of humour, and I would love to see it again to learn what the other path entails.
Before embarking on separate journeys, everyone is greeted outside in the Kensington Palace Gardens by A Necessary Women, a servant of the palace brilliantly played by Christina Ngoyi who is full of energy and excitement as her booming voice proclaims that guests are invited to celebrate King George II’s big birthday. After a special welcome from the King himself via a recorded message, all guests are given a glass of champagne as they enter the reception area, with fiddles playing and Lords and Ladies dancing whilst greeting guests, the atmosphere is vibrant and full of excitement.
Suddenly the fun is cut short as a piercing argument is heard from above the stairwell, between Queen Caroline (Miranda Heath) and Henrietta Howard (Yasmin Keita), and that’s where the story really kicks in and the paths are split. One delves into the history of the Queen and the other the Mistress, told through the stories of the people that lived with them in the palace.
This educational journey fuses the two groups together again at its climax when the two powerful characters finally confront one another. Their heated conversation re-enacts what history has told us happened, but when the Unnecessary Lady bursts in and breaks up the fight, she encourages the characters to speak words that they really may have said in that situation, not the story dictated by Georgian men but how the conversation could have unfolded, translated in realistic dialogue that is more relatable for a modern audience. This special moment puts a fresh new perspective on history, it makes you really assess what these powerful women may have been like towards each other and the bond that they could have shared. It challenges the audience to consider things thoroughly before believing what they’re told, which is the ultimate aim of the piece; alongside celebrating these fantastic women of history.
Whilst I would implore anyone with an interest in history to buy tickets for United Queendom, the current run which finishes on 30 March is all sold out! And so it should be, this offering of a unique opportunity to step back in time, performed by a trailblazing theatre company, is one to cherish. But don’t worry, if you want to learn more about these amazing characters, you can visit Kensington Palace during the day where you can explore the luxurious State Apartments for yourself.
Reviewer: Stephen Sheldrake