How to win Against History
Reviewed – 9th December 2017
“a shock to the senses, overwhelmed with fast-paced comedy”
How to Win Against History is a trojan horse in a battle against normativity. Fulfilling the criteria of the ‘mainstream’ theatre scene — song and dance numbers, dramatic events and happy endings— the piece undermines the restrictive structures of the normal to promote and favour a queer way of being. Telling the untold story of Henry the 5th Marquis of Anglesey, the name of the company bring queer history to the forefront, reinstating Henry’s life into the face of history from which he was literally burnt by his descendants. In this way, the piece is not only hugely entertaining and polished, but also incredibly politically relevant, resurrecting a piece of history long shunned by the mainstream and bringing the flamboyant story of the cross-dressing Marquis to the light of day.
The narrative follows the misadventures of Henry, the 5th Marquis of Anglesey; through his years at a village-people style Eton college, a marriage of ‘definitely true love’ (and prompt divorce) from his unwitting wife, spending his family’s entire fortune on putting on insane productions starring Henry himself, a quick jaunt to Germany to perform his electric butterfly routine and finally a penniless death in Monte Carlo. The piece unpicks the gap between appearances and reality, normality and queerness, with a tension between these worlds subtextually demanding out attention. This is most cleverly revealed through the cast’s own meta-theatrical awareness; the piece begins with a song about the importance of being mainstream and continues with constant references of the people-pleasing nature of theatre. Calling attention to these parallels is a stroke of genius, allowing the audience to engage with the piece not only as witnesses to the rebirth of a queer history, but as the very representatives of ‘normal’ society that necessitated its oppression in the first place.
Full of hilariously funny horrible histories style patter songs, the piece is quick-witted and somewhat a shock to the senses, overwhelmed with fast-paced comedy, the jokes occasionally got lost by quieter or unclear vocals, but largely landed well with incredibly timing. The mastery of the musical material truly demonstrated the incredible talent of the three performers and managed to both provoke laughter and awe, pulling the audience into a tone of silliness and extravagance vital to both the piece and the Marquis himself. Performances were truly excellent, with Seiriol Davies (The Marquis) stealing the show, matching the Marquis’ flamboyant extravagance with an absolute commitment to the importance and seriousness of his own narcissism.
For me, the value of this piece comes more from the telling of the narrative than the story itself. It is the very performance and dedication to the story that makes it radically important and the cast’s commitment to telling Henry’s theatrical and glittery story with honesty and a lack of bias produces a fabulous piece of entertainment, which speaks to a larger and less glittery oppression.
Reviewed by Tasmine Airey
Photography by Kristina Banholze
How to win Against History
is at the Young Vic until 30th December