Edinburgh – How To Win Against History

During last year’s Edinburgh Fringe I saw How to Win Against History in the Assembly Box, an intimate shipping container with 80 seats.  This year it’s moved up in the world to the Assembly Piccolo, a 200 seat tent in a beautiful, traditional style with bench seating.  Billed as a musical but really a play with songs, this show tells the story of Henry Cyril Paget, 5th Marquis of Anglesey, who invested his family’s wealth in putting on fabulous plays starring himself.

At heart this is a show about wanting to be remembered.  Henry, ‘fierce and a cross-dresser’, performed to leave an emotional legacy, and yet he died penniless and forgotten in Monte Carlo in 1905 at the age of 29.  Writer and performer Seiriol Davies sets out to put the record straight and to fill in the gaps.  Regrettably after I died, my family annihilated every trace of me: every photograph and document and letter in a fire.

The three performers – Seiriol, Matthew Blake as constant companion Keith, and live music from Dylan Towny – work tremendously well together to recreate this fascinating life.  Both the dialogue and the musical lyrics drive the story forward in a way that maintains a lively pace.  It is the focus on the character of Henry rather than the historical facts that makes the show work so well; it is Henry’s ambitions and flaws that are so satisfyingly rewarding to the audience.

Regrettably (a word used repeatedly in the show) Henry, Marquis of Anglesey, could never produce a show to compare to this one; therein lies a wonderful irony.

Assembly Piccolo, Edinburgh, to 27 August.  Also at HOME Manchester as part of Orbit 2017, 14-15 Oct.

Theatre lover, amateur director, occasional actor, writer.

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