Mr Foote's Other Leg Reviewed: Comedy And Tragedy Combine

Theatre Royal Haymarket ★★★★☆

By Sam Smith Last edited 35 months ago
Mr Foote's Other Leg Reviewed: Comedy And Tragedy Combine Theatre Royal Haymarket 4
Joseph Millson, Dervla Kirwan and Simon Russell Beale © Alastair Muir

David Garrick, the eighteenth century actor acclaimed for his prowess in both comedy and tragedy, is well known today. Less so is his contemporary Samuel Foote, even though his own story is just as noteworthy as that of his more famous friend.

This actor and writer worked around the strict rules governing the licensing of theatres to put on crowd-pleasing entertainment, and in the process gained the respect of George III. When, however, he lost a leg after being thrown from a horse, he spent ten years parodying himself and others on stage while suffering a series of disastrous setbacks and undergoing a slow decline.

Nevertheless, his own theatre was awarded royal status (only the third ever to be) and, although the present building dates from 1821, it still exists today as the Theatre Royal Haymarket. It feels particularly appropriate, therefore, that Ian Kelly’s Mr Foote’s Other Leg, which started life in 2012 as a book and premiered at the Hampstead Theatre in September, should now appear in the place for which its protagonist was responsible.

The play, directed by Richard Eyre, is undoubtedly funny from the outset (there is some strong language) but for much of Act One, because the tragedies that bring the depth have not yet occurred, things feel too facile and inconsequential. All this changes in the second half, however, as Samuel Foote’s personal misfortunes are laid bare against the backdrop of world events such as the American War of Independence. Scientific ideas of the Enlightenment are also cleverly incorporated into the plot with theatre being offered as an analogy for the brain.

Joseph Millsom as David Garrick and Dervla Kirwan as actress Peg Woffington are superb, but it is Simon Russell Beale in the title role who steals the show. He captures the cheeky chancer at the start perfectly, and becomes increasingly moving as he presents a man whose fears and pains are all too frequently hidden behind the façade of one who has seemingly lost all inhibitions.

Until 23 January 2016 at the Theatre Royal Haymarket, 18 Suffolk Street, London SW1Y 4HT. Tickets (£15-65): 020 7930 8800 or visit the Mrs Foote’s Other Leg website. Londonist saw this play on a complimentary ticket.

Last Updated 09 November 2015