This wonderfully absurd musical three-hander returns to the Fringe
This review is from 'How To Win Against History's run at the 2016 Edinburgh Fringe
Henry Paget, the fifth Marquess of Anglesea, was Quite The Character, a flamboyant late Victorian who inherited a vast fortune and spaffed it all on a furiously self-indulgent lifestyle that involved transforming the chapel of his family seat into theatre in which he staged a series of massively expensive, not very good plays. When he died, heavily in debt, at the age of 29, his very embarrassed family attempted to erase him from history by burning all his papers and converting the theatre back to a chapel.
This information may or may not be helpful when it comes to contemplating Seiriol Davies’s gleefully ludicrous chamber musical, a larky collision of Gilbert & Sullivan and Monty Python that is probably not to be consulted for its strict historical verisimilitude. It’s a tribute to the idea of Paget and his ebullient self-destruction as much as a serious interrogation of the real life figure.
The structure is a fizzy canter through key events in Paget’s life that begins with a very funny song about attending Eton, ends with a very funny skit based around a Daily Mail journalist called Quentin, and is stuffed in between with a series of very songs about Paget’s wayward theatrical career and evidently confused sexuality. Wearing a sort of blue sequinned jumpsuit-slash-dress, Davies’s Paget is utterly winning, a sweet, wide-eyed loon who enjoys every second of his absurd life. He’s ably supported by fractionally straighter man Matthew Blake, who plays a series of other figures from Paget’s life (including his unfortunate wife) and Dylan Townle, who offers a spot of piano accompaniment to the harmony-heavy numbers.
It would be easy to draw up a thesis about how the show is an attempt to counteract the attempted historical erasure of Paget, and there in in fact lot going on beneath the frothy surface. But getting too heavy about this gag-packed, irony-heavy joy of a show is to kind of miss the point. It’s the sort of show that makes the world better by sheer dint of how fun it is.