One of the top picks of Edinburgh Fringe 2016, Seiriol Davies’s delightful cross between biography, satire and experimental musical is back in Edinburgh once again, ahead of its UK tour. So if you previously missed the chance to spend an hour in the company of Henry Cyril Paget, the Fifth Marquis of Anglesey, there are no excuses left.
To be clear, this piece makes no claim to authenticity. We are told at the outset that at the end of the protagonist’s brief life at the age of 29, his family burnt his papers in order to erase all trace of his existence. Such was the embarrassment brought about by the Marquis’s extravagant lifestyle, which, aside from cross-dressing, included bejewelling his slippers with rubies, turning the family chapel into a theatre and spending his entire inheritance well before his death. The intentions of the show are therefore spelled out in its title and in the opening declarations of a desire to connect with what the audience wants.
In his project, multi-talented Davies is joined by the corpulent yet nimble triple threat Matthew Blake and a facially expressive pianist and musical director Dylan Townley. (Director Alex Swift and dramaturg Eve Leigh have worked with the cast on crafting the overall dynamic of the piece).
In many ways, this is a classic piece of British theatre reincarnating and placing itself within the lineage of Restoration comedy, Music Hall, Oscar Wilde and Saturday night TV – or in the words of the makers themselves: mainstream entertainment. That said, the eccentricity and blind narcissism of the protagonist himself may end up putting some people off, just as well as it did at the turn of the twentieth century.
But whether you like him or not, the main and most impressive achievement of this particular portrayal is a complete absence of cliché. Resisting all familiar tropes, Davies deploys an entirely individual brand of camp – subtle and measured, contained within a twinkle of his eye, the clasp of his hands or the pitch of his off key singing voice.
Having not seen its initial run I cannot say how it compares, but a year on it comes across as an assured and accomplished piece of theatre which no longer frets about winning approval or delivering a frighteningly fierce finale.
How to Win Against History is on at Assembly George Square until 27th August. Click here for more details.