Cross-Dressing Simon Russell Beale Plays Footsie
It is ironic that a show about one of London’s first celebrities should be sold out for the entire run several weeks before opening, largely on the strength of its cast and director. If you are lucky enough to get returns, or if the show transfers to the West End, you are in for a hilarious, sumptuous treat.
The play is based on Ian Kelly’s biography (our glowing review here) of eighteenth century star comedian Samuel Foote who founded the theatre Royal Haymarket and along with David Garrick led the cultural scene during the Age of Enlightenment.
Simon Russell Beale is totally at ease in the role of eccentric, entrepreneurial, cross-dressing Mr Foote in this fictionalised account of his rise and fall. Dervla Kirwan is beguiling as his confidante and muse, the celebrated actress Peg Woffington.
The show is packed with laugh-out-loud comedy moments and toilet humour. But tragedy is never far away. Georgian London was an unforgiving place for the poor, the sick or those who fall foul or of the ruling aristocracy. When Mr Foote injures his leg in a riding accident medical science can only offer amputation — in a gruellingly descriptive scene that had us squirming in our seats. Not one to give up, Mr Foote reinvents himself as a one-legged performer and stars in his self-written comedies such as The Lame Lover.
Most of the action takes place back stage in the artists’ dressing room. The fine costumes, including Mr Foote’s own enormous flamboyant frocks, and candle-like lighting sensuously recreate Theatreland in the time of Handel. At over two and a half hours the play is long but Richard Eyre’s direction drives the action at breakneck speed, leaving us feeling we had witnessed London theatre at its best.
By Alice Grahame
Last Updated 23 September 2015