Still very funny, still very smart, and still glitteringly fabulous, How to Win Against History shows no sign of surrendering its pole position.
How to Win Against History tells the story of Henry Cyril Paget, Vth Marquis of Anglesey, who’s lust for dressing up in expensive dresses and putting on lavish theatre shows bankrupted him and caused his family to attempt to destroy every pieces of evidence that he ever existed.
I couldn’t wait to see How to Win Against History for the second time, because it’s such a good show that completely bowled me over pre-Edinburgh Fringe Festival last year. After last year’s fringe success, and with the show also lined up to play the Young Vic this winter, it certainly can be said that it’s been met with a similar enthusiasm to me. I see very few things a second time, and How to Win Against History is up there with other shows like JOAN, Briefs, and Every Good Boy Deserves Favour (regrettably, I’ve seen Fame three times, but each and every one of those outings were against my will). But does seeing it again make it lose any of its lustre?
NOPE! How to Win Against History is still as immensely enjoyable as ever. Seiriol Davies’ celebration of the late marquis and flamboyant cross-dresser is one of the smartest and most knowing of musicals/operettas out there. It’s tremendously well researched from what Paget’s family were unable to destroy, and with a sharp and highly witty artistic licence that fills in the blanks. How to Win Against History also hilariously tears into theatre and popular culture with a quicksilver ease that’s so slick you almost miss the quips.
There are some very slight changes since its pre-Edinburgh run last year. Most notably is the mention of Paget adopting a “dark skin child”. However, it’s absence makes absolutely no impact on the show: it’s an omission that just keeps How to Win Against History concise and tidy (and within the festival’s hour time limit).
The only thing I would say is that if you can wait until it hits the Young Vic, the shackles of the time slot will mean How to Win Against History might be a bit less breakneck meaning you could take home a bit more than you can at its current frantic pace. But even then, it’s unyielding energy and verve gives it an amazing, if slightly dizzying sheen, and it would be a shame to lose that. Indeed, seeing How to Win Against History a second time means that I was able to pick up on a lot more of the jokes that I was able to the first time: this is because everything is so quickfire it’s pretty much impossible to digest every single punchline in a single sitting. If anything, this means I found it far more intelligent and inspired this time around that before!
Music and Lyrics
Davies’ music is just as sharp and raucous as the book, with the jokes, both musical and lyrical, being as memorable as the book. Just like the book, How to Win Against History’s songs are as fun as they are incredibly intelligent. Davies takes time to musically send up many genres and stereotypes, from musical theatre to baroque opera, with not just an unmatched grace and wicked sardonism, but as so slick and effortless that nothing about the laughs feels contrived or forced. Not to mention they’re incredibly catchy. I’ve literally struggled to get to sleep some nights because I’ve got “This is What it Looks Like” bouncing around in my head!
How to Win Against History not only triumphs over history, but pretty much reigns over the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.