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A CurtainUp London London Review
Mr Foote's Other Leg

"I've seen some dodgy productions, I can tell you!" — Mrs Garner
Mr Foote's Other Leg
Joseph Millson as David /Garrick, Dervla Kirwan as Pef Woffington and Simon Russell Beale as Samuel Foote (Photo: Nobby Clark)
Mr Foote's Other Leg opens in a museum of body parts where two people who worked for Samuel Foote are liberating his amputated leg from the display in order to bury it with the rest of him. We then meet a group of actors learning acting and elocution from Charles Macklin (Colin Stinton), an actor known for his naturalism, in Georgian or Eighteenth Century England. David Garrick, to become the most celebrated actor of his generation, is still using his Midlands accent but reminds us that William Shakespeare too came from Warwickshire in the Midlands. Irish actress Peg Woffington (Dervla Kirwan) is there as is Miss Chudeigh (Sophie Bleasdale) in a splendid Gainsborough picture hat adorned with feathers. When Macklin asks Samuel Foote (Simon Russell Beale) what speech or part he has prepared, Foote replies "His Bottom!". We giggle but this is the kind of humour you can expect: jokes with lashings of theatrical references and some of them that seem to have been around since 1776.

Wonderfully the theatre that Samuel Foote ran was in the Haymarket, where this play is now showing. The play is drawn by Ian Kelly from his biography Mr Foote's Other Leg, Comedy, Tragedy and Murder in Georgian London. It was a problem to get a licence to produce plays so often theatre would produce concerts or opera with a "free" play given away to get round the licensing laws. Samuel Foote would often hold "tea parties" as a cover for plays many of which he appeared in dressed in voluminous frocks and elaborate wigs.

Tim Hatley's set is perfect for the period and the costumes too are excellent. Foote's Molly outfits would grace any pantomime.

Besides the actors we meet Benjamin Franklin (Colin Stinton) who lived in London and was a theatre goer and the Scottish scientist known for dissection, Dr John Hunter (Forbes Masson). A riding accident costs Foote his leg but he carries on in the theatre at first in a wheelchair and later with the aid of one of the first articulated prosthetics designed by Dr Hunter and built by the puppet makers at Drury Lane. We are not spared any of the gory details of the amputation onstage. Ian Kelly the author takes on the role of Prince George, later King George III, a theatre patron and who granted Foote a licence in the Haymarket.

Dervla Kirwan is utterly charming as Peg Woffington, the beautiful Irish comic actress; her voice wasn't good enough for tragedy, who quarrelled with many other actresses and who was Garrick's mistress. She is perfectly cast in this personality filled role which ends sadly with Peg's wasting disease. Joseph Millson is attractive as David Garrick, shown as a gentle character. Jenny Galloway is the vocal stage manager Mrs Garner who describes her job behind the scenes as the "worst bits of any marriage".

But the star of this show is Russell Beale's foul mouthed Foote, witty and often crude whose reputation takes a knock when he is accused by a footman of sodomy. His rendering of Othello as a comedy must have been quite a stretch! We have Garrick telling Foote that he cannot play both Falstaff and Mistress Quickly. At one point we have three Othellos onstage in a pure farce, two with curly haired wigs.

Ian Kelly's play is overstuffed, full of different themes, funny and sad, and theatre jokes but Russell Beale is a real treat!

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Mr Foote's Other Leg
Written by Ian Kelly
Directed by Richard Eyre

Starring: Simon Russell Beale, Dervla Kirwan, Joseph Millson
With: Micah Balfour, Jenny Galloway, Forbes Masson, Sophie Bleasdale, Colin Stinton, Ian Kelly, Joshua Elliott.
Designer: Tim Hatley
Lighting: Peter Mumford
Sound: John Leonard
Composer: Richard Hartley
Running time: Two hours 30 minutes with an interval
Box Office 020 7930 8890
Booking to 23rd January 2016
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 4th November 2015 performance at the Theatre Royal Haymarket, London SW1Y 4HT (Tube: Piccadilly Circus)
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