Wednesday 10 August 2016

How To Win Against History – The Box, Assembly, Edinburgh

[seen 08/08/16]

Seen directly before Two Man Show, How To Win Against History (H2WAH) approaches almost the exact same questions of gender, identity, and patriarchy from the precise opposite direction; with just as much wit, verve, gusto and subversive intent, but with a dogged determination to WIN, rather than leaving questions like open wounds.

Preçis: H2WAH tells the (short, dead at 29) life story of Henry Paget, the Fifth Marquess of Anglsey (link to his Wikipedia page, which is ALL SPOILER).

Let me say first: I *LOVED* How To Win Against History. There’s part of me that just wants to list its virtues, praise it to the skies, attempt to capture the bliss it is to watch, record just how much I laughed, and leave it at that. (Simon Bowes does a neat job of writing *that review*, while still retaining his intellectual dignity.)

And, well, worrying about how in 21st century UK we still seem default-forced to find our heroes of subversion within the aristocracy – even when there’s been a concerted effort to erase them from it, as here – does just seem pointless. My only uncharitable thought during the whole the show was: “We wouldn’t be making all this song and dance about the guy if we were Russian. He’d have been shot in 1917 along with the rest of the aristocracy. Good. Death to the aristocracy!”

Given Britain’s lack of a violent revolution by the proletariat, what we have instead is a tradition of witty songs with which to undermine the ruling classes. Seiriol Davies knocks the whole genre into a cocked hat. There’s everthing from torch song to Flashdance-montage pastiche, and a fair amount of what could be anything from Gilbert and Sullivan to old school Footlights, all decked out with beautifully turned, delicious, witty, *rhyming*(!) lyrics.

The narrative is told with urgency and finesse. There’s barely an ounce of fat on the dramatic structure (dramaturgy: Eve Leigh), and the stage action and choreography is such that you’ll repeatedly forget you’re actually crammed into a metal shipping container in an Edinburgh square (direction: Alex Swift – as always, impossible to know who did what, but frankly, if even only half of the detail is his, the man also deserves an Olivier).

That said, the down-at-heel setting feels almost crucial for the piece’s success. The opening number is about both Paget and Davies’s desire for “mainstream” theatrical success. The killer irony – that we’re watching precisely this in the smallest venue imaginable – is part of what makes it so beautiful. I mean, it *will* transfer. I’m fascinated to see to what size of venue. I mean, if The Play What Went Wrong can fill a West End house, I really don’t see why this couldn’t. It’d look lovely in an old music hall too... But, yes, without the fringe-iness, I do wonder what would happen to the precision-engineered jokes about being “mainstream” and brilliantly bitter observations about regional touring.

Supporting artists Matthew Blake (all other roles) and Dylan Townley (keyboards, singing, magnificent hairdo and deadpan interjections) also deserve a shedload of praise. Argh. The thing is so good it makes your prose go to pieces trying to explain it. It has several jokes so good that you laugh out loud again when you remember them. You come out feeling completely brilliant for having seen something a) so uplifting in its flawed defiance, and b) so magically well-made and perfectly performed.

Look, just go and see the damn thing. Literally *everyone* will love this show. Promise.

Must see. Kill to inherit a ticket.

Five stars.

(I’m allowed to give stars if I want. They’re part of a meta-gesture toward the show’s desire for mainstream success. So ner.)

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