How to Win Against History

The “Fun Palace” weekend, celebrated by theatres up and down the country, included several free theatre performances, which I was determined to take advantage of. Ovalhouse Theatre in south London arranged to show How to Win Against History, a play that had been shown in the summer. I missed out first time around, so I was excited at the possibility of finally getting to see it.

Sieriol Davies’ musical-in-progress is about the life of the 5th Marquis of Anglesey, Henry Paget, a fabulous figure – I am gutted that I had never heard of him before. At the end of the nineteenth century, the Marquis inherited his title and the huge family fortune, which he spent on clothes, glamorous accessories and converting the family chapel into a theatre, in which he put on plays to which nobody came. After spending all his money and accumulating huge debts he travelled abroad, dying in Monte Carlo at the age of 29. His family subsequently burned every record of his existence.

The musical follows the Marquis’ life as he experiences unhappiness at school and at the death of his mother, learns to enjoy cross-dressing, marries – and later divorces – his cousin, and fulfills his theatrical dreams. The show ends with his premature death in Monte Carlo. Only two actors portray the characters, one playing the Marquis and the other playing everyone else. They were brilliant, inhabiting the characters perfectly, and were just as good at performing the songs on a keyboard as they were acting out the scenes of the play. With a level of direct audience engagement, the show drew everybody in and made us care about the characters. The musical was fabulous and glamorous, but also deeply touching. I loved this show, and I would definitely go and see a fully-completed version.

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