“Once more unto the breeches”
Such is the power of Simon Russell Beale that Mr Foote’s Other Leg sold out its run at the Hampstead Theatre before it had even opened and I wouldn’t be surprised to hear news of a West End transfer before too long, given the very good reviews I suspect it will get. So I’m setting out my stall now and saying that whilst it is good, I don’t think it is that good – indeed my companion for the evening found it sufficiently insufferable to demand we leave at the interval.
Beale plays Samuel Foote, an Oscar Wilde or Stephen Fry-like figure in Georgian London whose stock has risen in society to make him quite famous. But as things go up, so too must they come down and Ian Kelly’s play, based on his own biography of Foote, finds a connection with the modern obsession with celebrities and how their downfall is often celebrated as much as their success. From backstage at theatres to the heights of the Royal Society and indeed royal society, Foote soon finds out what happens when the shoe is on the other foot.
Richard Eyre plays the production with a very blunt and bawdy sense of humour and it is one that lost me at the start and once you’re in a theatre full of people laughing way more than you, it can be a bit of a dispiriting experience. And I have to say there’s something deeply uncomfortable about being in a very predominantly white middle-class audience roaring their heads off at a (historically accurate…) sequence involving actors in blackface, no matter how much you might try and Nunn-splain it away.
So we can just chalk this one up as not for me (or Andrew for that matter). Beale is undoubtedly good, as are Dervla Kirwan and Joseph Millson, two actors I haven’t seen enough of, and Jenny Galloway gets a handful of cracking lines as under-appreciated theatre manager Mrs Garner and who knows, maybe the second act turns out to be amazing, or maybe I’m just pulling your leg. Either way, the amputation special of the Act 1 closer is certainly not for the squeamish.