How to Win Against History is is an incredibly fast paced, extremely camp and extravagant three-man cabaret musical – phew!
Actor, Seiriol Davies creeps on stage, grimacing and voguing, in a blue-sequinned dress, as Henry Cecil Paget, the 5th Marquess of Anglesey. He is a desperately enthusiastic character who, thankfully, is balanced out by Mr Alexander Keith and ‘The Band’ – one guy who looked a bit like Eraserhead stood at a piano and offered a couple of witty lines. The energy was intense, but it kept the momentum going well, and it created real intrigue around this historic, cross-dressing figure. The music from ‘The Band’s’ piano was incorporated perfectly into the (what appeared to be) painstakingly rehearsed movements, giving sound to a mime piano with a flick of Henry’s hand – much to his delight – and also acting physically as a tour van when they are gathered behind it.
We are told right at the beginning that we don’t have to worry about seeing something that will challenge us, it will be ‘mainstream entertainment.’ And, throughout the piece, Davies offers us a critique of theatre and the well-made play – however serious it may be. In ‘Please Everybody (The Touring Song)’ which pokes fun at audience response, there are a number of excuses for why ‘you can’t please everybody all the time.’ For example, ‘I think we’re all still tired from rehearsal…’ and as Keith points out ‘there’s only so much you can do to pander to an audience.’ This drew attention to our own reactions as audience members – how bloody meta! I enjoyed the Brechtian style self-referential lines, and the more direct breaking of the fourth wall when, for example, Mr Alexander Keith walked past with a ‘RESPECTFUL APPLAUSE’ placard. We all waited in tittering anticipation for someone to clap when the ‘THE SOUND OF ONE PERSON CLAPPING’ one was brought out.
Davies successfully satirises many elements of popular culture. There was drag queen style ‘shade’ thrown at the classic X-factor-hand-on-ear-vibrato, which Henry did; taking it to a hideous Mariah Carey level of screeching. There was also a (perhaps overly excessive) caricature of the gremlins that write for The Daily Mail, and both of these skits were a guaranteed laugh.
Whether the most honourable Marquess of Anglesey would have had a good time, we’ll never know. Although apparently he was a huge narcissist and would’ve probably bought out the whole theatre.
How to Win Against History runs at the Young Vic until the 30th of December.
Words, by Dora Hemming
Pic, Mihaela Bodlovic