Join fabulous transvestite and narcissist extraordinaire Henry Cyril Paget, 5th Marquis of Anglesey, on a voyage of excess and self-destruction. He’s going down – but with a song, and in a sequined dress. How to Win Against History is an unusual beast, a witty look at class done through cabaret and the occasional dance routine.
Broadly, this is a look at the short life of a jaw-droppingly flamboyant aristocrat, as he seeks to break out of the restrictive class system he’s part of due to an accident of birth. Luckily, he’s one of the richest men in Britain, and can do this in style. Early on we see Paget suffering at Eton, followed by reluctantly “doing love” by marrying another aristocrat, mainly enjoying the chance to dress her up in jewels. In a nod to Macbeth, he’s also visited by two apparitions who tell him to “be yourself”. The marquis takes this to heart with gusto, and soon sets about touring the provinces as an actor and inflicting his “butterfly dance” on the Germans.
It’s not just aristos who are in line for being mocked; Paget’s real-life decision to turn the family chapel into a theatre provides fertile territory for some affectionate digs at thespians. Lines like “if there’s one thing actors are good at, it’s ignoring rejection” are brilliantly delivered. There are some great jibes at the rich too, such as a rip-roaring number with the chorus “Eton, Eton, pull up a peasant to put your feet on”.
Beneath the glitz, the cast of three brought a real West End quality to the proceedings and valiantly ignored the trials of performing in a shipping container in boiling conditions.
The gloriousness of one man’s narcissism makes for a thoroughly entertaining show that somehow still manages to be uplifting. You’ll find yourself totally enthralled and unable to resist Henry Cyril Paget with his “incredible poverty cheekbones.” It’s an absolute riot.