How to Win Against History (5 stars)

This article is from 2016

How to Win Against History

An outstanding gentry bending satirical cabaret

There just aren't enough shows around that reference both The Golden Girls and Schoenberg. But this is no average cabaret, with bullet points of historical (in)accuracies gleaming like little polished sequins. The scatter-gun verbal dexterity alone is astonishing, but the songs, touching on colonial rule, theatrical tropes and the ubiquity of Etonian bullies are deceptively catchy, with gorgeous harmonies.

Playing aristocratic hedonist Henry Cyril Paget, who squandered all his money, Seiriol Davies is exceptional, all wide smiles, cheeky asides and exaggerated gesticulations; yet he's so incredibly vulnerable. He sends up his own narcissism as a performer who needs constant affirmation like oxygen. The other two musicians Matthew Blake and Dylan Townley are almost as compelling with ridiculous dance routines which make toes curl: they don't skewer musical theatre so much as decapitate it.

Asking what audiences expect ('extended metaphors', 'mainstream', 'tweeeeed'), they not only undercut responses, but demand them, and always in such a way that everyone is in on the joke: their absolute insincerity is their sincerity. Prompt cards read 'respectful applause', 'riotous applause', and, rather brilliantly, 'one man clapping'.

The underlying camp of the supposedly macho armies in their polished boots and epaulettes is always ripe for a kicking, and they do it in grand trailblazing style. From Brechtian music hall to postmodern Wilde, there is nothing they can't play, or play with. Even when Davies attempts to be 'normal', deconstructing love and marriage, he is betrayed by his expressive flashing eyes, made up like Cleopatra.

Above all, the trio are reclaiming the visibility of queer heroes for a new generation, eschewing heteronormative histories. There is not one wasted line or gesture and it all flows like a vintage red wine. It's frequently cartoonish and absurd, of course, but always pointed and intellectually rich. It's the spaces between the bravado that make the skin prickle. Hilarious, beautiful and truly moving.

Assembly George Square Theatre, until Aug 28, 5.40pm, £10–£12).

How to Win Against History

  • 5 stars

Costume drama musical about Henry Cyril Paget, the 5th Marquis of Anglesey.