Book, music and lyrics: Seiriol Davies
Reviewer: Julia Beasley
Edwardian cross-dressing toff Henry Cyril Page certainly knew how to be outrageous. He was the 5th Marquis of Anglesey, one of the wealthiest men in the world. But he squandered the family fortune on sparkly frocks and ruby-encrusted slippers, turned the chapel into a theatre and put on plays – starring himself – that nobody wanted to see.
When Henry died at the age of 29, his appalled family tried to erase him from history by burning his photos and letters. Ironically a sycophantic editorial by the Daily Mail helped provide the archive material that has now allowed him to be brought back to life.
How to Win against History is Seiriol Davies’ revenge for the oddball aristocrat. This gleeful musical tribute was a hit of the Edinburgh Fringe and is currently at Bristol’s wonderful Wardrobe Theatre as part of a national tour.
Davies shines literally and figuratively in a sequin dress, as both writer and star of what is undoubtedly the sparkliest show in town. Fellow performers Matthew Blake and Dylan Townley join him in perfect comic timing for a night of endless musical invention. Be prepared for a satirical and irreverent performance with topical references and ad-libbing (this reviewer was eyeballed and highlighted in one song, The Lady with the Notebook was Quite Off-Putting).
The real Henry lived a diva-ish life of folly and extravagance that slid into bankruptcy. As an actor he was an abject failure; his marriage was loveless and ended in divorce. He was isolated and may, in reality, have been troubled and sad. “I am a narcissist…I can only frouf, ponce, pretend”, he sings.
Did Henry ultimately win against History (i.e. his the family who disowned him)? Without a doubt – Davies’ play is a celebration of a fabulously anarchic cross-dresser who was obviously way ahead of his time.
Reviewed on 3 November 2017 | Image: Mihaela Bodlovic