When viewing a show as celebrated and adored as How to Win Against History there is always the risk that it’ll never be able to live up to the hype. Such concerns were quickly dispelled after the first song in Seiriol Davies’ masterful musical.
Has some seriously intelligent arguments bubbling away underneath the glitz and glamour
How to Win Against History is all about the life of Henry Cyril Paget, the most fabulous aristocrat you’ve probably never heard of. He enjoyed living lavishly, dressing up in women’s clothing and putting on extravagant plays that no one came to see. After his death, aged 29, his family attempted to destroy any memory of this blemish on their reputation and succeeded until Davies and the creative team decided to fill in the blanks that history tried to erase.
In doing so, they rail Britain’s stiff-upper-lip attitude, patriarchy and the challenges of ‘making it’ in the arts using all the subversive wit and humour they can muster. They also add in plenty of fabulous Gilbert & Sullivan-esque, music-hall style songs that not only fit Paget’s doomed dream of ‘mainstream success’ but also subvert and mock Britain’s own culture and history.
Davies may be the undisputed star of the show as Paget, but Matthew Blake certainly gives him a run for his money as everyone from Paget’s discontented wife to a ham-Shakespearean actor, accompanying Paget on his extravagant endeavours. Meanwhile, Dylan Townley provides pitch-perfect musical support whilst never letting himself fade into the background. Verity Quinn’s design and Dan Saggars’ lighting perfectly evoke the dilapidated glamour of Paget’s unconventional Victorian lifestyle. Alex Swift’s direction is subtle and unobtrusive, though influential with every scene, transition and musical number effortlessly flowing into the other. Eve Leigh’s dramaturgy ensures not a moment of stage time is wasted.
All of this results in a show that’s not only outrageously fun to watch but also has some seriously intelligent arguments bubbling away underneath the glitz and glamour.