Samuel Foote (1720-1777), the long-forgotten, one-legged playwright and actor-manager of the Little Theatre in Haymarket, was extremely popular in the Georgian era.
Today he is remembered only by 18th century theatre buffs. His fame began in 1741 when he published an account of a murder committed by his uncle.
Ian Kelly, who wrote a biography about him last year, has now turned his book into a sprawling play which embraces theatre, life back stage, science, surgery, cross-dressing, royal patronage and celebrity.
The script is lewd and Hogarthian. The Shakespearean quotes are particularly apt.
Foote wrote satires on city life and to get round licensing laws he would invite audiences to come to a “tea party” and they would pay for the tea rather than his performance.
He staged a comic version of Othello to rival the great David Garrick’s version, which leads here to a farcical fight between the two blacked-up actors.
One of Foote’s most celebrated creations, Mrs Cole, a brothel Madam, in his play, The Minor, is often described as the grandmother of the 19th century pantomime dames.
His life ended in infamy when in 1776 he was accused of gross indecency by his footman and arraigned for a trial, which was as sensational in its day as Oscar Wilde’s trials were a century later. He had always refused to bow to convention and paid a heavy price.
Richard Eyre’s production is notable for a strong cast. Simon Russell Beale is the uninhibited, flamboyant, outrageous Foote, seen sometimes in full drag.
Joseph Millson is Garrick, Dervla Kirwan is Peg Woffington, Micah Balfour is the footman, a freed slave, Jenny Galloway is the stage manager and Ian Kelly is Prince George.