Gone are the dog collar and respectful black and in are bouffant wigs and dresses with faux buxom bosoms. Simon Russell Beale follows up his subtle and serious turn in Temple with a raucous comedy Mr Footes Other Leg at Hampstead Theatre.
Written by Ian Kelly (who also plays Prince George) the story is based on real life Samuel Foote (Simon Russell Beale) a lawyer turned actor and satirical comedian who ended up running the Theatre Royal Haymarket in 18th century, securing its royal warrant along the way. After a bet goes wrong Foote loses his leg which he turns to his advantage.
Set primarily back stage in Footes' dressing room, he enjoys fame and notoriety and his life is populated with colourful characters. Among them are his friend and rival David Garrick (Joseph Millson) the Brummie obsessed with Shakespeare; Peg Woffington (Dirvla Kirwan) actress and mistress to the rich who's not afraid of a bit of titillation to bring the punters in; Mrs Garner (Jenny Galloway) the no nonsense, loyal and occasionally mischievous stage manager; and Frank Barbour (Micah Balfour) the freed slave from Jamaica who does all the odd jobs and is therefore indispensable.
We follow his battle with the censors, the squabbles back stage, desperate tactics to make money and rivalry with other theatres. Intertwined are scenes with Foote's friend, failed actor John Hunter (Forbes Masson), who together with Benjamin Franklin (John Stinton) has an interest in the science of the brain and questions whether fame makes you mad.
Mr Foote's Other Leg feels a little like Georgian comedy should be done, how it would have been done. Stuffed with satire, silliness and a good handful of theatre jokes SRB and the whole cast are on top form. Great to see Dirvla Kirwan in such a brilliantly feisty and comic role and I'd love to have seen a bit more of Jenny Galloway's character Mrs G in the story because she was wonderful - mischievous and matronly.
It would make a great double bill with Farinelli and the King at the Duke of York's which I saw the following night (review to come). Farinelli is mentioned in Mr Foote's Other Leg, it also has a potty mouthed lead character and has more than the odd Hamlet quote in it too.
Mr Foote's Other Leg runs at the Hampstead Theatre until October 17 and is two hours and forty minutes including an interval.