Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Theatre 2016: Review Five

Mr Foote's Other Leg, Theatre Royal Haymarket, London. January 2016.

The joy of a weekend in London means the chance to see more than just one show and after Guys and Dolls our second show was this oddball.

Once more we went in knowing nothing about it, other than the fact that Simon Russell Beale has been fantastic in everything we've seen him in and I don't think either Rebecca or I were expecting quite what we got.

The story is that of Samuel Foote who was a theatre actor, manager, director and cross dresser in the latter half of the 1700s.  He was a contemporary of Garrick and Benjamin Franklin and lived an incredibly varied life,  he also had only one leg and was at the heart of a sexual scandal big enough to rival anything in the tabloids today.

The play is also by Foote's biographer and having read the programme notes it is quite hard to separate fact from fiction and as soon as I have finished my dissertation and have time to read about the theatre in a manner not connected to my specialist topic I will be hunting the biography down.

The play is very funny, very rude and very funny and shies away from nothing when it comes to making jokes, and I can see why this play isn't for everybody* but I'm afraid that is really appealed to my (warped) sense of humour and once I realised that it was pushing buttons to make you laugh and then feel guilty for doing so I was fine.

I very much liked the way that it brought in lots of minor points about the history of theatre and Shakespeare in the eighteenth-century, it was like seeing some of the drier texts I've read over the last few years come to life in front of me, a little like happened when we saw Red Velvet.

Act One ends very dramatically with Mr Foote saying something along the lines of 'how do you top that in the second half' and I did find this to be fairly accurate. For me the story arc wasn't quite so clear after the interval, but it was interesting to see how an over the top character can all too easily tip over a line and go from funny to offensive in the blink of an eye.

Several times the play appeared to break the fourth wall and address the audience, but in fact this wasn't quite the case - the cast were addressing an audience but it was the audience of their time and not us. This made the call for a 'doctor in the house' very odd as just for a minute I wasn't sure which audience was being addressed. Later, when Foote dries on stage, it isn't the modern audience heckling him and causing him to respond but 'his' audience which gave the me a very other-worldly feel, and let me feel the history of the theatre and the 'ghosts' very clearly.

The nicest bit of the play was that it had transferred from Hampstead to the Theatre Royal Haymarket as this was in fact the theatre in which the play is set - a nice (probably intentional) circle of history. It was also fun to know that a theatre I now see as being a very 'proper' building once had such a turbulent past.

I'm glad that this transferred to the West End and that we managed a trip to London before it closed as I think this is a play I'd have been really sorry to have missed.

*I wish the couple sitting next to me had left at the interval like they talked about as their audible disapproval was most off putting!

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