How to Win Against History at the Young Vic
The hilarious How to Win Against History feels very off-brand for the normally #serious Young Vic – it’s actually sort of baffling that somewhere like the Soho Theatre didn’t snaffle up the goofy meta-cabaret for a mega-run heading into Christmas. Yet credit goes to outgoing artistic director David Lan for bringing a different kind of cult appeal to The Cut this December.
With a book, music and lyrics – not to mention besequinned central performance – by Seiriol Davies, How to Win wanders through the fleeting but fabulous life of Henry Cyril Paget: 5th Marquis of Anglesey, glorious cross-dresser and all-round performing babe. From ill-fated marriage, to ill-fated theatrical tour, to ill-fated trip to Germany, the musical traces the little-known adventures of a ridiculed man who history is only just catching up with.
Davies is a joy as Henry, combining the wide-eyed, petulant naivete of Nick Mohammed’s Mr Swallow with the inner diva-demon of Jinkx Monsoon. Matthew Blake is every bit Davies’s equal as Alexander Keith, the actor and (admittedly well-compensated) friend who provides a pretentious mentor-cum-stooge for the madcap Marquis; Blake has a wonderful physical and facial malleability, sprinting through routines and characters with palpable glee. And special mention to Dylan Townley, who does delightfully deadpan work as the musical accompaniment.
Director Alex Swift conducts the show with the kind of comedic choreography that’s both super slick and specifically reminiscent of amateur overacting. Along those lines it recalls a less shambolic Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, as loving a tribute to am-dram as the cult TV show is to horror. The production mines barrels of laughs from little digs and jabs at the world of the theatre, with an especially raucous scene coming at the expensive of the Daily Mail’s rather cantankerous (to be polite) critic.
Among the jokes about the misery of nationwide tours, actors’ need for attention, and Etonian awfulness – all rendered in side-splitting song and dance – there’s a very sweet, quietly important story about a perpetual outsider striving against the tweed straitjacket of what society deems normal. There is a line to be drawn from How to Win Against History to Everybody’s Talking About Jamie; not just because of the drag element, but because you could argue without bumbling trailblazers like Henry Cyril Paget – at least as he is framed by Davies – we might not have people like Jamie New in the “mainstream”.
Photo: Kristina Banholzer
How to Win Against History is at the Young Vic from 30th November until 30th December 2017. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.