The Hampstead Theatre production of Ian Kelly's play Mr Foote's Other Leg, about one of the 18th century's larger than life theatrical figures, gets a West End transfer and neatly ends up in the actual venue — the Theatre Royal Haymarket — where Foote and his band of actors once plied their trade.
Samuel Foote (played here by Simon Russell Beale) was a contemporary of the probably better known actor manager David Garrick. At first the two men were friends and colleagues, but then became rivals when Garrick moved across London to run the Theatre Royal Drury Lane. And it was following a wager between the pair that was laid down by Prince George that Foote lost a leg — so to speak.
Kelly, whose play is based on his own biography of Foote and who does a nice turn as Prince George in this production, beautifully captures the atmosphere of Georgian London in what is a delightfully funny and bawdy romp that’s a real love letter to the theatre. He and director Richard Eyre are rewarded by a terrific performance from the ever-excellent Simon Russell Beale, who switches effortlessly between comedy and pathos as Foote’s mental health deteriorates after the accident and his world begins to collapse as he becomes embroiled in scandal
If Foote hadn't existed you couldn't have invented him — as he says himself: a man with one leg called Foote. He wrote one of the first true crime novels based on a murder in his own family, he spent time in a debtors’ prison and yet was known to royalty, he was once played Othello as a comedy and was constantly coming up with schemes to get around new censorship and licensing laws. As well as being an actor, impresario, cross-dresser and impressionist. How much larger than life do you want?
Although Simon Russell Beale is the obvious centre of the piece and carries off all facets of Foote’s personality with aplomb, he's surrounded by a faultless ensemble cast which includes a deliciously saucy turn from Dervla Kirwan as foul-mouthed and celebrated actress Mrs Woffington, Jenny Galloway as Foote's straight talking but ever loyal stage manager, dresser and general dogsbody Mrs Garner and Micah Balfour as the former slave who ends up working for Foote.
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