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Seiriol Davies: “It was important to me that when it hit Edinburgh, it was totally bullet proof”, talking about How to Win Against History.

Few Edinburgh Fringe shows make the kind of impact that How to Win Against History has. Having received high praise from (basically everyone) Janet Ellis and Complicite, the show is surely destined for another life.
We meet at Assembly Hall, George Square for a pint and a chat about the show, rejection, working the Fringe and more.

How to Win Against History

How to Win Against History runs at Assembly George Square Theatre until 28th August. Click on the image to book your tickets now!

I start by asking him how the show came to be, a musical focussing on Henry Paget, 5th Marquess of Anglesey who enjoys cross-dressing, he starts “The whole time we’ve made the show I was entirely convinced I was going to get pipped to the post by someone else, because it is – to me – such an obvious story. Henry was theatrical, what the French would call flamboyant, he spent all his family’s money putting on plays, with him in them and often dressed in lovely dresses made of diamonds. Upon his death his entire internal life had been deleted, so he’s the perfect kind of cypher character in a way.”

This is theatre at its most alive. We discuss the rave reviews, taking it in his stride. He appears genuinely humbled. “They are really lovely. They certainly impact the show in the way that they get people in. It will help us to tour it as well, which is my primary goal. I like reading reviews from audiences who get it on many levels and I like that the show has a broad appeal, it’s about using mainstream-ness to talk about what it means to be rejected by society.” He adds “To my knowledge, the worst review we’ve had said it would only appeal to a niche audience and that our Henry should have been more butch.”

I ask what the biggest challenges that he has faced with this piece were. “I was terrified going into the venue, because it’s so mini, but it’s been decked out beautifully. It’s actually eerily similar to the upstairs studio we first developed it in at Ovalhouse. Ovalhouse is an amazing engine for creating new work, and they’ve been instrumental in getting it off the ground. We’re really grateful to them and Pontio in Bangor, who are our Welsh partner, who made it possible for us to get to Edinburgh.”

One of the best things about Edinburgh Fringe is that it rewards risk-taking audiences, and everything is up for grabs. You hear people raving about it, and want to see it for yourself. How to Win Against History is doing very well here but I bet most of the audience never imagined they’d ever love a show dedicated to the lives and times of a cross dressing dancing Marquess, or would have booked to see it at their local theatre.

Davies is bringing a fresh approach, “I think it’s a shame when a musical is all like ‘scene scene plot talking talking scene SONG which-is-a-divergent-soliloquy-about-what-someone-is-feeling-inside then back to scene scene talking talking plot…’ I mean it can be that, sure, but you’ve got access to such an amazing breadth of ways of expressing stuff in musicals, and do so in ways that seem effortless to take in as an audience. So, you can move the story forward with a song, and at the same time subvert or mess with what the words are saying, using the music. There’s a song in the show about touring an increasingly difficult show, which moves the plot and characters forward a fair but, but also digs up all of our actorly bitterness towards critics, audiences, other actors and our own poncy ways and failures. But the song is a chirpy barbershop style, so it contrasts. I’m not sure that’s the best example of what I’m saying, but I’m tired and I’ve had a cider, so that’s my excuse.”

At this point, I pipe up that rejection is the greatest aphrodisiac. “I have not found this to be the case,” he says, smiling. “Except if you mean that people with low self esteem are easy to pull?” His humour is still intact.

Creatives at the festival pour their hearts and souls into shows to deliver the goods. How is he feeling right now, two thirds into the run? “I feel good. It feels really great to have momentum behind something like this when it has been so long in the making. It was important to me that when it hit Edinburgh, it was totally bullet proof.”

These origins make perfect sense. It has an unique energy behind it. The show’s incredible achievement is that it completely defies categorisation and that many, myself included, would probably never see outside a festival context.

His favourite musicals are a given, in terms of what you see of him, he is a very intelligent theatre creature. He says “Southpark the Musical, which is so unbelievably clever.” He smiles. “Oh God. Cabaret and Matilda!”

And there we have it.

How to Win Against History is at Edinburgh Fringe Festival until Aug 28.

CLICK HERE TO BUY YOUR TICKETS FOR HOW TO WIN AGAINST HISTORY

Click here to read the review of How to Win Against History by Dominic Cavendish in The Telegraph