On every front, this show is a winner. The writing is outstanding, the music is catchy, and the performances of each of the actors (including the pianist actor/musician) are faultless. In short, there is nothing not to like in this production which charts the life and times of the little known 5th Marquis of Anglesey, the cross-dressing, extroverted narcissist, and thoughtless spender Henry Paget. This is a smooth, self-aware and supremely polished hour of riotous laughter, participation and even emotional involvement with the protagonist.
A plethora of observations and witticisms that come and go faster than Henry Paget’s family wealth.
Having researched the little documented life of Paget, a figure emanating from writer Seiriol Davies’ own home island, the apparent indignity of his having been unscrupulously wiped from the annals of history is now redeemed. Appearing in an outfit of shimmering blue sequins, the protagonist seems as out of place now as he might have been perceived in his own time. However, performed by Davies himself, ably assisted by Matthew Blake and musical director Dylan Townley, this eccentric figure generates genuine good-feeling as his anti-establishment, norm-defying behaviour gets him both into and out of trouble. Played with wide-eyed exaggeration, Davies successfully conveys Paget as optimistic beyond reason, a characteristic crucial to the overall impact of the piece.
While there is plenty of over-the-top flamboyance, glamour and choreography which fills the stage, though there are only two performers inhabiting it, the writing of this show in fact uses the stereotypically glitzy conventions of commercial musical theatre to cast a satirical eye over the way in which people on the fringes of society are perceived, and to highlight the humanity within people who may look and behave rather, or even radically, differently from what is perceived to be acceptable. Through their up-beat happy-clappy performance style, the characters’ assertion that they ‘don’t mean to challenge you’ could well be taken at face value. However, looking beneath the surface there is much to be learnt about the nature of individuality, even in a world in which the 5th Marquis of Anglesey’s transvestite tendencies ought to be received more readily.
Full of modern day references carefully sprinkled into the tongue-twisting and articulately performed book, the attentively listening audience member will find a plethora of observations and witticisms that come and go faster than Henry Paget’s family wealth. Though one of the most catchy tunes of the piece plays upon the notion that in the theatre one ‘can’t please everybody all the time’, How To Win Against History at the very least will please most of the people, most of the time.