Mr Foote’s Other Leg at Theatre Royal Haymarket
After a 250 year absence from the boards of what is now the Theatre Royal Haymarket, the eponymous Samuel Foote returns to the stage in Ian Kelly’s excellent semi-biographical comedy, depicting one of Georgian London’s more rambunctious figures.
Set in 1776, to a backdrop of independence in the new world and a conservative crackdown on theatrical expression in London, Mr Foote’s Other Leg wittily explores the life of satirical pioneer Foote (Simon Russell Beale), from his beginnings as the proprietor of a theatrical speakeasy to his fall from grace and descent into unhinged bitterness. Rising alongside Foote are a collection of his partners in crime, theatrical rivals and confidantes: renowned playwright David Garrick (Joseph Millson), Irish theatrical star Peg Woffington (Dervla Kirwan) and Scottish scientist John Hunter (Forbes Masson). The show depicts their rise from obscurity as struggling actors, until a dovetailing of ambitions sees Garrick depart for stardom amongst the upper classes. Meanwhile, Foote and Woffington struggle to make ends meet, performing their “titties and ditties” for the unwashed masses. Eventually, following a wager gone wrong, Foote loses his leg (in one of the most striking scenes of the show) and begins a dark descent into caustic infamy where his newly uninhibited writing ultimately leads to the end of his career.
Kelly’s Georgian London is clearly not one of coquettish glances and court dances. Between Foote’s fabulous explanation of his penchant for cross-dressing on stage: “it’s all part of growing up and being British”, and Woffington’s promiscuity: “f there’s a wig on the door, Peg has a ‘friend of the Little Theatre’ visiting”, the audience are given a peek into an 18th century society that is obsessed with celebrity and sleaze. Throughout this exploration, Beale anchors the slightly overstuffed plot with a brilliant performance as Foote and imbues the role with humour, insight and a touch of pantomime dame that is riotously funny, even in the darker moments of the third act. Also of note are Jenny Galloway, who plays the ever-present and no-nonsense Mrs Garner, and Ian Kelly himself, who takes to the stage as a delightfully aloof and self-absorbed Prince George.
Despite a plot that attempts to squeeze in an overabundance of themes, Ian Kelly has written an excellent tragicomedy, in which Beale shines as the brilliant and broken Samuel Foote.
Photos: Nobby Clark
Mr Foote’s Other Leg is on at the Theatre Royal Haymarket from 28th October until 23rd January 2016, for more information or to book visit here.