Regrettably: notes on ‘How To Win Against History’

How to Win Against History is a musical retelling of the life of Henry Cyril Paget, 5th Marquis of Anglesey (1875 – 1905). He was born to inherit the Empire, but instead he burned brightly, briefly and transvestitely through his family’s vast wealth; putting on fabulous plays starring him.
Written, composed and performed by Seiriol Davies, this fabulous show has been a huge hit at the Edinburgh fringe for the second year running, and is touring the UK throughout 2017.
In this blog, Seiriol talks about how he first learned that Henry Cyril even existed.

“I grew up on Ynys Mon, a.k.a. Anglesey, a.k.a. The Druidic Haven of the Celts, a.k.a. The Flat Bit Before You Get To The Irish Ferry. It’s a barreny, lovely, salty sort of place. Henry Cyril Paget also lived there, which is handy.

While we’ve been making HTWAH, I’ve said this particular story so many times that I’ve a bit lost track of exactly how true it is (oh my god look: thematic relevance), but my recollection is I used to make my parents take me to Plas Newydd, which is the Paget family’s estate on Anglesey, over and over again as a boy. Of course, it may have been like twice and I just sucked it all in through my hungry, mad child-eyes in such detail that it felt like loads.
And I should say it’s a National Trust place, we didn’t just turn up at somebody’s house with me in the back seat, goggle-eyed and absorbing key memories for later musical theatre projects.

In fact, my mum has in her retirement expressed an interest in working at Plas Newydd and becoming one of those powerful-looking National Trust ladies who dwell by the fireplaces in an angora cardie waiting to tell you what that weird Game of Thronesy thing is (it’s probably a long-range bedpan) or to point vehemently at the ‘stop prodding that’ sign, or to pose for the odd awkward group selfie with a family in velourette anoraks from Wisconsin.
And I for one think this would be very exciting.

But anyway, there were two key reasons why I wanted to go there so much:

(i) The mural by painter Rex Whistler (the non-Whistler’s Mother one) which is all Italianate froufferies and phantastickal towers and harbour-folk, and is well worth the twenty minute tour guide talk-through, as it does things with foreshortening that beggar belief. Like, if you as a viewer do a nifty crab-walk along the floor in front of it, it can make a sailboat seem to sail out of the harbour before your very eyes while not moving at all in real life because it is a painting and this is not Harry Potter. Or at least, that is what the tour guide claimed, and my response was to just glare at it until I could sufficiently motivate myself to believe I could see what she was talking about.

But in any case, it’s a bit Where’s Wally and a bit Magic Eye and I was so preoccupied with it that we’ve now got a framed copy of it up by the sink in the kitchen in my flat. And I’m fairly sure that, if it wasn’t positioned where the glassware cupboard door slammed into it with alarming enthusiasm every time I open it, I would have by now found the peace to enter its zone and divine its secrets while washing the wine glasses of a Tuesday morning. But, as it is, I just get mesmerised and accidentally smack it again with the cupboard door.

(b) The small collection of laminated, photocopied snaps of Henry Cyril which were grudgingly stuck on the wall next to the toilet by the back porch. Now, as context, the pictures of the other, preceding Marquises (NB Other people seem to say ‘Marquess’, but I tend to prefer ‘Marquis’. I’m not sure why; I think maybe cos Henry seemed to favour it that way, and I’m just some ratbag socialisty commoner with Radio 4 affectations, so I’ve allowed myself to pick which spelling I fancied. Do get in touch, DeBrett’s) are not exhibited in the same laminatey toilet zone; their pictures are painted in oil, hanging in big gold frames in rooms you actually hang out in, or they are immortalised as busts, or full-body statues on top of huge columns erected looming over Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch (a nearby village) as a deliberate copying of Nelson’s Column in London.

Well, one of them has that. The first Marquis was a hero at the battle of Waterloo (by which we presumably mean he stood in a big hat at the back telling some poor people to run that way) and was so British that, when his leg got blown off by a cannon shell, The Duke of Wellington, who was next to him, looked down and said “By Jove, sir, I think your leg’s been blown off” and Paget looked down and said “By Jove, sir, I think you’re right”. For these services to hats, shouting and limb-removal-not-noticing, he got himself a Column, which is probably one of NW Wales’s top Columns, and I really mean that.

The fact that it was this sort of lineage Henry Cyril was coming from makes it no real surprise that he got relegated to the Gallery De Toilette, because…
I mean look at him. Google Image Search ‘Henry Cyril Paget’ and look at them outfits.

Aren’t they stu-hunn-ing? Doesn’t he look like Freddie Mercury drove through Elizabeth Duke’s wearing a sellotape suit?

Henry Cyril Paget and Seiriol Davies

I drank them in, those pictures, though not really identifying very much with the whole fabulousness thing. I’ve never been an extravagant dresser per se, apart from a brief phase when I took to tying bright scarves to the belt loops of my skater jeans in an attempt to look like a sort of sexy satyr, but ended up looking (as a friend helpfully pointed out) “as though my butt was wearing a cape”. And, at the time of seeing the images,
I was probably wearing a Homer Simpson T-shirt, urban camo trousers and Hi-Tecs.

But there’s just something about him in those pictures. Okay, sure, there’s the millions of poundsworth of costume budget; but there’s also the sort of ‘don’t give a fig’ attitude he has which I loved: that he’s gazing out, dressed for some reason as a prog rock chandelier, telling the world to fig off, the bunch of motherfiggers.

And reading the little inscription underneath, which said (spoiler alert) that he’d ruined himself, died young and been expunged from the family history as comprehensively as possible – with all the letters, photos and diaries his family could find, burnt – set off my little internal bell of moral outrage. And so, because I believe in swift, decisive action, I decided to make a play about it twenty years later.

But over all that time, the simplicity of that feeling hasn’t really changed, despite growing-upness making it clear the whole thing’s more complicated, what with issues of privilege and stuff like that.

Because that’s Henry. Even though on paper he’s not the most obviously sympathetic character (“Hey come see my show about this dead white millionaire and how hard his life was. Come back please!”) people have just seemed to warm to him. Due to some combination of his defiance, his outsideryness writ on such a massive, Imperial scale and the fact that we know hardly anything about his internal life (due to the aforementioned bonfire), people seem to be able to pour themselves into him. Because I reckon most of us, at least some of the time, think we’re an outsider in a world that everyone else gets. And whatever our actual ambitions, very few of us are quite so extravagantly emo as to want no trace of us to exist after death.

Also yes, his outfits are life-giving.

I wanted to make something that redressed the balance a tiny bit; that told at least a version of his story as pieced together from a lot of extraordinary events with no internal monologue. With songs and me in a dress and a gag about Keira Knightley.

However, the truth is: there is a bit more stuff that survived the fire. I was lucky enough to have the help of Lily and Christopher Sykes, who are descendants of the actual real life Lilian from her second marriage, as well as Prof Viv Gardner, fabulous performance historian at the University of Manchester. With their help – as well as some lovely people who’ve written to me either when they heard we were making, or having seen, the show – I’ve got a few more tidbits.

Based on the conversations I’ve had with people after the show (sample:
“So, did he really exist?” “Yes. Did I forget to say that several times in the show?” “No, but I thought that was you making it more clear that he didn’t exist.” “Surely that would be quite a weird way of saying that.” “Yeah, but you are quite weird.” “Good point. A Strongbow Dark Fruits please.” “Strongbow Dark Fruits. Really?” “Don’t judge me.”) I thought it’d be good to talk a bit around the story, to weave some of these bits of tid into the script; to show how the show matches up with the true-life story as much as I know it.

I might be wrong, you might think this a very tiresome thing to do, but anyway I’ve done it now. And you can buy it here.”

 – Seiriol Davies, Woolwich, Friday 6th Jan 2017

Oberon have published both the annotated script edition, and the musical score in the songbook edition. The annotated script contains many footnotes (feenote) from Seiriol’s research, while the song book contains the fully-transcribed piano and vocal arrangements for all fourteen songs from the show, so you can have a sherry and sing any of the glamorous roles.

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Edinburgh Festival 2016!

The Edinburgh Festival is almost upon us, and the team here at Oberon Books have been working their socks off behind the scenes to get everything ready. We’re delighted to now be bringing you the very best new writing, theatre and performance from across the festival and the country, from leading venues and rising-star writers

Get your festival diary sorted with these must-see shows, or delve deeper by getting stuck into the text. Catch up with the history of the festival through epic collections like Forest Fringe: The First Ten Yearsor help raise money for Save The Children by going to see The Duke for free! There’s so  much to see, do, and get involved with.
Have a brilliant #EdFest2016 everybody! xo

9781783197514Started in 2007, the Forest Fringe was brought to life by Andy Field, Deborah Pearson and Ira Brand as an independent, not-for-profit space in the midst of the Edinburgh Festival, to enable and encourage adventurous, experimental theatre. Ten years on, it’s become a consistent Edinburgh highlight, and we’ve collected the best of the work that’s come out of it in Forest Fringe: The First Ten Years. You can check out their Edinburgh 2016 programme here.

9781783191437Duncan Macmillan’s star has been on the rise for a few years now and the acclaimed writer hit the big time with the recent West End transfer of his fantastic play People, Places and Things. His earlier work Every Brilliant Thing is back at Edinburgh this year, and was lauded by critics as ‘one of the funniest plays you’ll ever see about depression.’ It’s going to be an Edinburgh must-see, and you can book tickets here.

9781786820310The Duke is a brand new live solo show by Shôn Dale-Jones. A funny and poignant one-man show which playfully mixes fantasy and reality, it was made to raise money for Save The Children’s Child Refugee Crisis Appeal. It’s free to attend, with donations given in lieu of ticket price, and proceeds from sale of the play text will also go towards the appeal.

9781783198320A Good Clean Heart is a funny, moving play about coming of age, with two brothers raised apart, in different families speaking different languages. A Welsh and English bilingual production, which Alun Saunders won the 2016 Wales Theatre Award for Best Playwright in the English Language for, it uses innovative lighting and animated subtitles to help with translation. Book tickets here.

9781786820037Five Guys Chillin’ is a graphic, gripping, funny and frank verbatim drama exposing the chill-out chem-sex scene. An original look into a drug-fuelled, hedonistic, highly secret world of Grindr, and instant gratification, you can see it here.

97817831983825 Out of 10 Men is a perceptive, darkly humorous look at male suicide rates by Roland Reynolds (tickets here), whose Blush of Dogs was called ‘a demented cackle of a play‘ by Time Out. A modern retelling of the Greek myth of Thyestes, Reynolds debut is available along with 5 Out of 10 Men here.

9781783198283Adapted solely from real testimonies and interviews, E15 looks at the modern rent and housing crisis, and the campaign started by single mothers in Newham E15 when threatened with eviction. A pertinent piece of documentary theatre, you can see it at Summerhall in Edinburgh and buy it with The 56 (about the 1985 Bradford City football ground fire) here.

9781783199785My Eyes Went Dark is a modern tragedy about a Russian architect driven to revenge after losing his family in a plane crash. A huge critical success during its original run at the Finborough, it’s sure to be in demand this summer in Edinburgh at the Traverse.

9781786820136A fierce and playful feminist work exploring the psychology of extremism, Blow Off is explosive new guerilla-gig-theatre from the co-creator of festival hits Beats and Chalk Farm, with live music by Kim Moore with Susan Bear and Julie Eisenstein from Glasgow’s hottest indie-pop duo Tuff Love. See it at the Traverse.

9781783197637Hailed as a ‘short, sharp shock of a production… that recall[s] the form-bending virtuosity of Caryl Churchill’ by the New York Times, Alice Birch’s Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again examines the language, behaviour and forces that shape women in the 21st century and asks what’s stopping us from doing something truly radical to change them. Full of ‘ferocious energy’, this is sure to be a must-see.

9781783190928In preparation for the film role of a lifetime, an actor goes to extreme lengths to dig up the truth. Her subject is the celebrated artist, Janet Adler, who rejected the art world in favour of a private life. From the real to the unreal, fake to true and theatre to film, Adler & Gibb is a compelling story of misappropriation and death, and this re-staging of the Royal Court production will be a great show.

9781783197491Part play, part house party, Ten Storey Love Song is Luke Barnes’ adaptation of Richard Milward’s cult novel about the tangled lives of the residents of a Middlesbrough tower block. A love song to a loveless Teesside, this is a guaranteed good night out at the Pleasance.

9781783197361Equations for A Moving Body is a story about triathlons. It’s a story about the physiology of endurance – when our brains tell our bodies to stop – and the psychology of continuing. Hannah Nicklin muses on the people who share that journey with us – family, coaches, friends, ex-boyfriends – and the people we swim, ride and run alongside at Summerhall. Her book Collected Works For Performance is available here.

You can browse all of these titles on our website HERE.

The Susan Smith Blackburn Prize

We are delighted to announce that not just one, but two of our playwrights are finalists for the prestigious 2015 The Susan Smith Blackburn Prize. Clara Brennan and Alice Birch have been nominated for Spine and Revolt. She said. Revolt again respectively.

Susan SmithThe prize, established in 1978  to recognise women who have written works of outstanding quality for the English-speaking theatre, is awarded annually and chosen by a panel of six judges. The winner, selected from the ten named finalists, will be announced on 2nd March in New York.

spine

Spine has already been recognised with a Fringe First and the Herald Angel Award last year, while Revolt saw Birch win the Arts Foundation Award for Playwriting as well as the George Devine Award for Most Promising Playwright in 2014.

Clara Brennan’s new play, Boa, is on stage now at Trafalgar Studios, starring Dame Harriet Walter alongside her husband Guy Paul, whilst Alice Birch’s Little Light has recently opened at Richmond’s Orange Tree theatre. We’re wishing all the very best to both mischiefwriters for their current productions and keeping our fingers crossed for March 2nd – watch this space!

Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again is published in Midsummer Mischief: Four Radical New Plays, alongside new plays by E.V. Crowe, Timberlake Wertenbaker and Abi Zakarian.

Spine is also available to buy from our website.

A Trash Takeover in the Pleasance Courtyard

A Trash Takeover in Edinburgh

Posted on July 29, 2013

In our second Edinburgh Festival preview we take a look at Belarus Free Theatre, the hard-hitting theatrical protest group who won a Fringe First in 2011 for their show Minsk 2011. They will be returning with their new production Trash Cuisine at the Pleasance Courtyard. The play is an excoriating statement against global torture and capital punishment, and you can see the official trailer here. Both playscripts are now available to buy in a new collection.

9781783190171

The company will also be taking over Martyrs’ Monument in Grassmarket, along with protest group, Free Belarus Now, as they revive their Give A Body Back campaign in Edinburgh at 11am on Tuesday 20 August. Click here to volunteer.

In a similar vein to recent action taken outside the Houses of Parliament and in London’s Trafalgar Square, volunteers will fill bodybags and litter the public square with living ‘corpses’. The peaceful protest is intended to highlight the human rights violations in Belarus, shedding light on the hundreds of people who have “disappeared” or been executed, Europe’s last bastion of dictatorship.

BFT

An underground company dedicated to performing uncensored work in their homeland,Belarus Free Theatre have had to struggle for their right to perform in a country where freedom of expression and human rights are hugely repressed. Founded in March 2005 by husband and wife team Nikolai Khalezin and Natalia Kaliada, with associate director Vladimir Shcherban, their performances in Belarus are held secretly, in small private apartments, the location of which, due to the risk of persecution, must constantly be changed.

If you wish to pledge your support to Belarus Free Theatre you can sponsor an actor or company member through this fundraising site.

Despite suffering every form of intimidation and harassment, BFT continue to produce great theatre that is recognised internationally, and their commitment to free expression and unflinching political activism has won them many influential friends in the UK, not least the Young Vic who gave Trash Cuisine it’s London premiere in May.

Below David Lan, the artistic director of the Young Vic, talks about his first encounters with BFT, and explains how he became a convert to their cause. 

I first came across the Belarus Free Theatre when they received the ‘New Realities’ prize of the European Theatre Union in Thessaloniki in 2008. All I knew about them was that they were a theatre company active in Minsk, capital of Belarus that had been driven underground by the repressive brutality of the Lukashenko government, the so-called ‘last dictatorship in Europe’.

That night they gave a celebratory performance to the audience that had gathered from across Europe in a vast polyvalent civic hall. My seat was right at the back, far over to one side. The light was dim, the acoustics appalling. By now, post ceremony and speeches, it was very late at night, so after half an hour I wished them well and went for a stroll along the boardwalk that lines the beach front…

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