How To Win Against History

Assembly George SquareUntil Aug 27 at 19:25
Box OfficeAdults £13 / Concessions £12


How to Win Against History started thirty minutes late at the Assembly Square George Gardens during the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. This happens frequently during the Fringe, so is kind of part of the territory, but it does make the audience apprehensive going in: will this be worth the wait? Luckily, How to Win Against History is so fantastic that the accidental delay was quickly forgotten. How to Win Against History is a new musical by Seiriol Davies, who also plays the main role. This musical of new writing is playing at the Fringe for the second year running, before touring across the country, and then heading to the Young Vic for a run in London. It’s not surprising that it has been enchanting audiences across the country, and I defy anyone to go to see it in Edinburgh or in one of its later venues and not leave with a smile on their face.

Henry Cyril Paget, the fifth Marquis of Anglesey and protagonist of the musical, mainly spent his time doing as he wanted. He lived a glamorous life of cross dressing and putting on theatrical performances. These were not always well received, and certainly disappointment is a theme well explored in this production. Unfortunately, this also resulted in bankrupting his family of their fortune, eventually leaving him with nothing, before he died of “some lung thing” at twenty-nine. Afterwards, his family burnt all record of his existence in an attempt to prevent him from being included in the historical record. This silence is broken by How To Win At History, a musical which aims to give representation to cross-dressing in history, which has been hidden by its omission from the historical and theatrical record.

This was an energetic, extremely witty performance, where a cast of three (one being the talented keyboardist) filled the space with warm character. Henry, played by Seiriol Davies, was instantly likable. He wore a glittering gown with gold accents which lit up the stage like the joy he exuded, and shone out from the brown and silver of the set and venue. Matthew Blake played the remainder of the characters in Henry’s life, and gave a particularly excellent impression of a Daily Mail Reporter towards the end which had the audience in stitches.

When Henry came into his fortune, he converted the family chapel into a theatre, and continued to put on wacky plays, despite the reluctance from his peers and audience. There was a fantastic section where they took the show on the road. During a song about the joys (and difficulties) of putting on a show, many tropes are unpacked which will be very familiar to any performers at the Fringe watching (a demographic that makes up a significant proportion of Fringe audiences). They try to explain why the audience not being receptive, arrogantly proclaiming that it was in no way the performance’s fault. I was half expecting them to say “well it reads like a four stars…”. The speed and wit in which this scene unfolds, with each tour performance getting more and more ridiculous, is reflective of the entire production which whisks you through the life of an extraordinary gentleman.

How to Win Against History approaches Henry’s life with a hefty sprinkling of glamour, but it also commemorates a tragic true story. Henry was not celebrated in his lifetime, and did not achieve the mainstream fame he dreamed of. The cast deal with discussions of manliness, rejection and failure in a way which feels very real, but which is still fabulous. Despite the over-the-top style, Henry’s life does not feel sensationalised.

Ultimately, Henry Cyril Paget did what he wanted throughout his short life, despite others who tried to stop him, which meant that, even though he failed many times (“if you really think about it”), Henry won against history.

How to Win Against History is showing at the Edinburgh Fringe at Assembly, George Square Gardens until the 27th of August. For more information and tickets see here.