I first encountered How to Win Against History when I saw a work-in-progress showing at Ovalhouse. I’m happy to report that this expanded, developed version completely fulfils all of its potential.
Seiriol Davies, who wrote the piece, stars as the fifth Marquis of Anglesey, Henry Cyril Paget, an Eton-educated aristocrat who defied the imperial stiff-upper-lip Edwardian culture of the time and decided to be his cross-dressing, theatrical, fabulous self. He spent the family fortune on jewels, clothes and theatrical productions to which nobody came, and when he died penniless in Monte Carlo at the age of 29 his shocked family burnt his diaries, letters and personal effects and tried to erase his existence from history.
Perhaps Paget had the last laugh, though, as it’s his story that is being told a century later. Davies portrays an unusual character with a moving vulnerability who lives in a fantasy world that’s both beguiling and misleading. As his theatrical endeavours come to nothing, he remains optimistic, travelling to Germany to present his infamous ‘Electric Butterfly Dance’; and yet the production also shows that he was a narcissist who treated his wife appallingly, didn’t necessarily have any talent, and threw away his considerable privilege.
His valet/accompanying actor (Matthew Blake) faithfully follows him on his travels, and Dylan Townley provides the keyboard accompaniment. The songs, several of which are very catchy, sound a bit like Beyonce and Gilbert & Sullivan rolled into one. Several are comic and the show is often very funny, even though the Marquis’ death at such a very young age is certainly tragic.
This is a show I’d recommend to anyone, even people who don’t like musicals. It’s a genuinely fabulous show and well worth seeing.