How to Win Against History may well be the first piece of genderpunk anti-imperialist musical theatre. This fiendishly creative, ferocious three-hander about the life of Henry Cyril Paget, 5th Marquess of Anglesey—a British peer in the late 19th century—demolishes so many conventions of contemporary performance and the straight-washing of British politics that it is impossible to match the terrain it covers in this review.
The mastermind behind this delightful show, Seiriol Davies, plays Paget, gracefully entering the stage draped in a full-length blue sequined dress. We are then whisked through the British peer’s life. After attending Eton and reluctantly marrying to unlock his fortune, Paget turned the family chapel into a 150-seat theatre and toured around the country until he went bankrupt. He died in Monte Carlo at age 30, although his death was still “so amazing!”
This musical is the ultimate queer road trip, winding backwards through British colonial history to mock inherited wealth, private schooling, and their connection to despicably conservative art, warmongering and the subjugation of the poor. What do audiences expect of a show about this subject? Even that very assumption often owes itself to straight imaginations of “satire” and “serious”, which are superbly obliterated by Davies and director Alex Swift.
Davies is accompanied by the magnetic Matthew Blake, who plays a plethora of secondary characters, and the hilariously deadpan Dylan Townley on piano. So savage, artistically original and elating is this musical, it demands the queering of countless selective retellings of British history.