I grew up on Anglesey, and there’s a spangly stately-home-cum-palace there called Plas Newydd, ancestral seat of the Marquises of Anglesey and I think I used to make my parents take me there a lot. There were busts and paintings there honouring the 1st Marquis, who was a war hero for having got his leg blown off at the battle of Waterloo but he didn’t even notice cos he was that British. There was big statues celebrating the 2nd Marquis, 3rd, 4th. Then of the 5th, Henry Cyril Paget (1875 – 1905) there was nothing but a laminated photocopy of some printed-out photos in the back porch just above the doormat. Because the 5th Marquis was “different”, “flamboyant”: what the French would call “theatrical” (but in a French accent).
Henry spent all of his family’s godlike amounts of cash not on taking his rightful place at the heart of the British Empire, but on putting on sparkly sparkly plays, starring him, wearing lovely, lovely diamond dresses. But nobody really came to see them.
After he died, his family burnt every trace of him they could find, trying to scrub him out of history. The obituaries on him said he had a detestable manner which meant he had never formed an emotional connection with another soul, and that he had “lived in vain”.
Junior-muppet-babies Seiriol was captivated looking at that lost little face peering out of the diamonds and feathers. Just Google ‘Henry Cyril Paget’ and you’ll see what I mean; he looks like Freddie Mercury having driven through H Samuel’s in a sellotape suit. Although I wasn’t flamboyant at all (I was probably wearing a Garfield sweater and arctic camo combats) I identified with him, deep. So I decided I would do something about it. And, because I believe in swift, decisive action, I ended up making a musical about him just over twenty years later.
It couldn’t be some kind of poor-little-rich-boy story about how hard it is to be a white guy with infinity amounts of dosh, because obviously. But, by looking at the story of someone who started out on the Mount Olympus of messed-up rancid colonialist history – on whom the weight of expectation was so immense, and whose failure to fit in, and whose consequent fall was so huge – by looking at a story writ so large, I thought we might be able to think a bit about what stuff we do to try to fit in with the world we’re presented with.
What sacrifices do we make in order to be the person we think we ought to be; to feel like we fit in with the people around us? And what would it mean to have your entire lived judged to be… invalid?
So in the show, Henry’s come back to set the record straight. However, this time there’ll be no more of that ‘failing to connect with people’ stuff, no! Because he’s going to tell his story through the medium of that most obvious, clear, mainstream of all art forms: the West End style musical.
Matthew and I are big fans of musicals and we wanted it to be the kind of musical we’d want to see / sing along to the cast album of in the middle of the night brandishing a bottle of Pinot. So it’s got all the big bits you’d expect in a musical in it, right up to that bit a bit near the end where everyone’s singing all different songs all on top of each other at the same time and it’s mega satisfying.
We made the show through devising. What that means (for me) is a process of us improvising, then me writing based on that, bringing what I’d written back to the room for us to read then play with it again, messing with it in an attempt to make it suck less, and so on back and forth.
“Us” in this instance was me and Matthew, then also Tom, and later Dylan, all of whom are tremendous men who are happy to gad about in mimed bloomers and belt out showtunes that are half (or not at all) written.
Alex, the director, was in charge of everything that happened in the devising room, making sure we generated everything I’d need to go off and write. He’d also tell us vaguely where to stand and so on, though that has never seemed a massive priority of his.
He’s got this special technique where, if you act poorly, he shouts at you until you’re acting it better. It’s very modern and effective and was invented in Paris which explains a lot. In fact, the first thing he had us do on day one was the entire show, start to finish. I meekly told him we hadn’t written it yet and he said he didn’t care we had to just make it up. And then I’ve got this sort of redacted black memory hole for about two hours, during which I gather we made some useful discoveries.
I’m so proud of what we’ve made. It’s mad, it’s totally brash and aggressively sparkly, but people seem to really respond to it. The show’s done well in Edinburgh and London, and now I can’t wait to share it with more audiences out on tour, and even more than that to bring it home.
Seiriol stars as Henry Cyril Paget, the flamboyant cross-dressing 5th Marquis of Anglesey who gained notoriety for squandering his family’s godlike wealth on diamond-studded plays, star vehicles for himself which nobody came to.
The ‘Dancing Marquis’ inherited his title in 1898 at the age of twenty-one, and was declared bankrupt just six years later, after burning through his vast fortune, spending it on bejewelled dresses, poodles dyed lilac, a fleet of cars modified to give out rose-scented exhaust fumes, and touring Germany with an enigmatic show called The Famous Electric Butterfly Dance. When he died a year later, his family burnt every record of his life they could find, and carried on as though he’d never been. How to Win Against History is an outrageous musical about being just too weird for the world, but desperately not wanting it to forget you.
Oct 5, 6:
College Road, Bangor LL57 2TQ 8pm | £12 (£10 concs) www.pontio.co.uk | 01248 382828
Oct 10, 11:
Northern Stage, Newcastle
Barras Bridge, Newcastle upon Tyne, Tyne and Wear NE1 7RH 7.45pm | £10
www.northernstage.co.uk | 0191 230 5151
Theatre Walk, Derby DE1 2NF
8pm | £10 (£8 concs) www.derbytheatre.co.uk | 01332 593939
Oct 14, 15:
Number 1 First Street, Manchester, M1 5DE Sat 7pm, Sun 5pm | £12.50 (£10.50 concs) homemcr.og | 0161 200 1500
Lincoln Drill Hall
Free School Ln, Lincoln LN2 1EY 7.30pm | £12 (££5 U26s) www.lincolndrillhall.com | 01522 873894
Aberystwyth Arts Centre
Aberystwyth University, Aberystwyth, Ceredigion SY23 3DE 7.45pm | £10 (£8 concs)
www.aberystwythartscentre.co.uk | 01970 62 32 32
The Wardrobe Theatre, Bristol
The Old Market Assembly, 25 West Street, Old Market, Bristol BS2 0DF 8pm | £12 (£10 concs)
thewardrobetheatre.com | 0117 902 0344
Pontardawe Arts Centre, Swansea
Herbert St, Pontardawe, Swansea SA8 7.30pm | £10.75 (£8.60 concs, £5.38 student) Npttheatres.co.uk/pontardawe | 01792 863722
The Wardrobe Theatre, Bristol (as above)
Additional matinee 2pm Sat 11
Sherman Theatre, Cardiff
Senghennydd Rd, Cardiff CF24 4YE, UK
7.30pm, Sat matinee 2pm | £16 (£14 concs, £ 8 U25s) www.shermantheatre.co.uk | 029 2064 6900
South Street Arts Centre, Reading
21 South St, Reading, RG1 4QU Times and prices TBC www.readingarts.com | 0118 960 6060
Doc Victoria, Caernarfon, Gwynedd, Caernarfon LL55 1SQ 8pm | £12 – £9
www.galericaernarfon.com | 01286 685 222
Nov 30 -Dec 30:
Young Vic, London (The Maria)
66 The Cut, Lambeth, London SE1 8LZ
Mon – Sat 7.45pm (except 23 Dec), Weds & Sat matinée 2.45pm (except 2 & 6 Dec) | £25 – £10 www.youngvic.org | 020 7922 2922