Adapted by Ian Kelly (who also plays Prince George) from his biography of Samuel Foote, the play is a wonderful blend of the character’s own personality, bringing fun, humour and moments of bittersweet sadness to the stage in Richard Eyre’s production. Samuel Foote, a figure largely forgotten by the wider public today, was certainly a celebrity of his time. As an actor, comedian, impressionist and satirist he was often on risky ground as he sought to push the limits of acceptability at a time when the censors required theatres to play by a very specific set of rules. The theatre and being a performer were clearly his life and it’s an interesting insight in to not just the man, but also the period, as we see the Haymarket family’s battle to keep the money coming in and the candles burning.
It’s easy to see why he was so popular and I cannot think of a better actor to bring his cheeky, playful, daring and yet, at his heart, deeply emotional character to life than Simon Russell Beale. Through his superb performance we witness the highs and lows of this larger than life figure of 18th century London, including not only the loss of his leg (something he was lucky to survive) but his securing of the Royal patent for his theatre, a fact about the Haymarket I never knew. For the squeamish theatergoer, you will be relieved to hear that the loss of Mr Foote’s leg leaves more to your own imagination than it shows on stage!
The production zips with pace from scene to scene (great credit goes to the stage management team’s effort with so many scene changes), as Simon Russell Beale is supported by a strong ensemble, particularly Dervla Kirwan’s Peg (strong, feisty, funny and with a warm heart, her friendship with Foote is a pleasure to watch) and Joseph Millson’s Garrick. Seeing him and Foote clash over their differing views of performance, often with comedic results, is great fun and the two actors sparkle together. I also loved the duo of Frank Barber (Micah Balfour) and Mrs Garner (Jenny Galloway), whose loyalty and affection for their employer and friend is very genuine and their opening scene is one of the funniest on the London stage at the moment!
I will certainly be taking a trip to see this again and I’m sure that sitting in the very theatre in which it is set will add an extra layer of emotional depth to the production as a whole. I can only hope that the success of this lovely new play will lead to a new appreciation for the life and achievements in theatre of its title character.
Mr Foote’s Other Leg transfers to the Theatre Royal Haymarket from 28th October for a 12 week run until 23rd January 2016. Press night is 4th November.