Theatre in Wales

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“A complete one-off... dazzling story...full of wit and played with panache”

How to Win Against History

Seiriol Davies &Aine Flanagan Productions , Assembly George Square , August-23-17
How to Win Against History by Seiriol Davies &Aine Flanagan Productions “How to Win Against History” was in Edinburgh 2016 with Pontio as co-producer. In 2017 the venue is bigger, the plaudits uniform, the audience every day in the hundreds.

From the Edinburgh Guide *****

It’s the theatrical experience Henry Cyril Paget, 5th Marquess of Anglesey would have hoped for. An ornate stage, colourful lighting and, most of all, an appreciative audience. The three male cast members appear in period dress, but for the Marquess it’s an altogether more spangly affair of sequins and huge epaulettes. He explains that he is an aristocrat. He is lonely, but he is rich. He is worried, but he is a cross-dresser. He has been told that huge things are expected of him but to be himself and this is who he is, a fantastic, narcissistic creature. When he inherits his peerage, he wonders what a marquess is for and decides, well, to be himself and sets out to bring art to the masses.

Family is history, but his life has been as he describes it “regrettable”, and having scorched through his enormous inherited fortune he has been burned from the family records. History is written by the winners and even a quest by his fellow performers seems in vain as they can’t buck peer pressure. The theatre life which he thought mainstream spirals as he takes to the road chasing ever declining audiences. In Berlin, a glittering avant-garde butterfly-dance leaves even the fantastically eccentric Lord Berners confused.

Bust in Monte Carlo, he has one last chance to win against history – by playacting and following that other showbiz rule - give the people what they want. This dazzling story is told is in the form of an even more glittering devised musical, full of wit and played with panache. Performances are outwardly as eccentric as the subject matter and pulled off with wide-eyed innocence and mischievous glee.

From Lyn Gardner Guardian

History is written by the victors. The Victorian family of Henry Cyril Paget, the 5th Marquess of Anglesey, were so outraged and appalled by his behaviour – which included gutting the family chapel to turn it into a theatre and spending the family fortune on frocks and ruby-encrusted slippers – that they tried to erase him from it. Now aided by co-conspirators Matthew Blake and Dylan Townley, Seiriol Davies gives him his revenge in this clever chamber opera of crackpot fabulousness, high camp and unexpected poignancy.

Born in 1875 and glittering brightly for just 29 years, Henry was a child of the British empire reared on the playing fields of Eton. His family thought he was born to rule in crusty high Victorian style, but the cross-dressing Henry had his own entirely unique style and thought he was born to perform. Even when nobody would pay to see him.

It is life as a performance that we get in this three-hander in which Davies – all wide-eyed narcissism and firework enthusiasms – prances across the stage like a joyous, destructive imp. This verbally intricate, witty show, which tours across the UK post the festival, tries on musical styles in the way that Henry himself tried on dresses and identities. The more the world rejects Henry, the harder the cast work, like desperate end-of-the-pier artists aware that if they can’t win over the audience with the glittering, glamour of theatre, they might notice the cracked shell footlights and tawdry emptiness beneath.

This is affectionate towards Henry and on his side as a man who dared to be different in a world where conformity mattered. But it is no hagiography. Henry was enormously privileged; he treated his poor wife abominably; he was utterly self-obsessed, and may well have been completely talentless. He had pots of money until his accountant told him he had spent it all on dyeing poodles lilac and putting on plays nobody wanted to see.

But it also celebrates a man who refused to take on the role he was given and found another one to play, and in using theatre – the form Henry so adored – to ensure that he is not erased from history it offers a double revenge. Like Henry himself, the show is a complete one-off: a little bit weird, totally absurd, often hilarious and very, very sparkly

From Three Weeks ****

Henry Cyril Paget, fifth Marquis of Anglesey and inveterate cross-dresser, lived a rather disastrous life, whose brevity was matched only by how desperately unsuited he was for every aspect of it. Fortunately, he lives again in Seiriol Davies’ delightful musical, which is both a dazzling technical achievement akin to Gilbert and Sullivan, and one of the most gleefully silly things you could hope to see. The jokes are fast, the rhymes faster, and it’s all bound up in a genuinely fascinating history lesson (that winged helmet is more historically accurate than you might think). Davies, as the Marquis, is ably supported by Matthew Blake and Dylan Townley – the three consummate performers tackle these tricky lyrics and harmonies with aplomb.

More reviews on https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/how-to-win-against-history

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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