MR FOOTE’S OTHER LEG
by Ian Kelly.
Theatre Royal Haymarket 18 Suffolk Street SW1Y 4HT To 23 January 2016.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm no evening performance 24, 31 Dec, no performance 25, 26 Dec, 1 Jan; Mat Wed, Sat & 22, 24, 28 Dec, 7 Jan 2.30pm.
Runs 2hr 35min One interval.
TICKETS: 020 7930 8800.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 4 November.
Life and comedy in the 18th-century theatre presented with due elegance and grit.
A composite Simon Russell Beale character might be found, as a young person, in the school playground, not one of the gang, unless as a hanger-on, but warding off insults and bullying through an acidic wit that outpaces the tougher playground heroes. He’d be the one, too, they’d go to for academic information or practical stratagems.
He accommodates his distinctive style to a variety of roles classical and modern. It made him, in a Royal Shakespeare Company Seagull, a particularly memorable Konstantin, able to take a tragic role to the edge of comedy, expressing disenchantment, scorn, disillusion and irony in a strychnine-tinged voice, while, no matter how centre-stage, seeming on the periphery of any group.
So in the play actor and author Ian Kelly has created from his book about 18th-century actor and theatre manager Samuel Foote, has fashioned a perfect Beale role. An outsider from the West Country, Foote is first seen Charles Macklin’s in acting classes, held incredibly during the intervals of performances, alongside David Garrick.
While Garrick was, as Joseph Millsom’s imposing figure suggests, to be the century’s leading classical actor, Foote entered theatre more like a stand-up or improv comedian.
Apart from sexuality scandals and a two-way court action which might match the Oscar Wilde trials for personal venom, Foote added to his store of puns by having a leg amputated following a riding accident, an event framing Kelly’s first act with scenes of dark humour.
His other structural point is the death of Irish-born actor Peg Woffington. Dervla Kirwan’s Peg has a sympathetic asperity and a light may was doubtless extinguished with her death.
Kelly deals with Foote’s remaining life less as a continuum than a series of separated snapshots, in a production by Richard Eyre typically rich in truth and details, and which, transferring from Hampstead Theatre almost comes home.
For it was next door to the Theatre Royal that Foote’s ‘Little Theatre in the Hay’ became the first to breach the Drury Lane/Covent Garden duopoly and present real plays in central London. Not bad for an improv artist and one-legged stand-up comedian.
Frank Barber: Micah Balfour.
Mrs Garner: Jenny Galloway.
John Hunter: Forbes Masson.
Peg Woffington: Dervla Kirwan.
David Garrick: Joseph Millsom.
Mrs Chudleigh: Sophie Bleasdale.
Samuel Foote: Simon Russell Beale.
Charles Macklin/Benjamin Franklin: Colin Stinton.
Mr Hallam: Joshua Elliott.
Prince George: Ian Kelly.
Director: Richard Eyre.
Designer/Costume: Tim Hatley.
Lighting: Peter Mumford.
Sound: John Leonard.
Composer: Richard Hartley.
Assistant director: Nick Bromley.
Assistant designer: Ross Edwards.