Mr Foote’s Other Leg, Hampstead Theatre, London

From left, Joseph Milsom, Simon Russell Beale and Dervla Kirwan in 'Mr Foote's Other Leg'©Nobby Clark

From left, Joseph Milsom, Simon Russell Beale and Dervla Kirwan in ‘Mr Foote’s Other Leg’

Ian Kelly is a sickeningly versatile chap. As an actor, he appeared in the West Finish and on Broadway in The Pitmen Painters as a historian, his biography of Casanova won the Sunday Instances biography of the year award as a co-writer, his perform on Vivienne Westwood’s memoir has enjoyed a much less smooth ride. Now he has adapted his 2012 book subtitled Comedy, Tragedy and Murder in Georgian London for the stage, and seems in Richard Eyre’s production as Prince George.

Kelly focuses on the 1-legged transvestite comedian (!) Samuel Foote, whom he portrays as a “frenemy” of David Garrick, operating comedies at the Haymarket Theatre in rivalry with Garrick’s Shakespeares at Drury Lane. When Foote has a leg amputated following a riding accident resulting from a frivolous bet, his career continues but he grows a lot more bitter and significantly less restrained, particularly relating to his sexuality, which proves his downfall.


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Kelly’s dramatisation is largely faithful to historical record, though he requires some liberties by folding in characters such as Benjamin Franklin in order to incorporate much more of the material that fascinates him. And what fascinates him is practically almost everything to do with the 18th century and/or the theatre. We touch on political history, theories of electrical fluid powering the human brain, race, homosexuality and the culture of celebrity embodied at the time in theatre, as properly as a mass of anecdotage.

If any person could hold all these plates spinning onstage at as soon as, it is Simon Russell Beale. He virtually succeeds as Foote, especially throughout the plump puckishness of the 1st act, ahead of subsiding into his trademark astringent self-awareness, clumping around on a wooden leg in a selection of frocks with constructed-in embonpoint. Joseph Millson as Garrick and Dervla Kirwan as the Irish-born actress Peg Woffington head a likewise assiduous supporting cast.

Even so, I couldn’t shake the suspicion that I was getting fascinated simply because I was already predisposed towards the subject and that other people may well find it hermetic the second act appeared to bear this out, in that the deeper and a lot more serious the material grows, the less compelling and more impenetrable it becomes. Like its topic, it stands firmly on a single side only.

To October 17,

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Section: Arts

Photograph 51, Noël Coward Theatre, London

Nicole Kidman animates the figure of Rosalind Franklin, who pursued scientific discovery at private cost

Joshua Silver and Nicole Kidman in 'Photograph 51'©Johan Persson

Joshua Silver and Nicole Kidman in ‘Photograph 51’

It’s about time we in London saw a play about Rosalind Franklin I bear in mind pondering so when the Royal Shakespeare Organization premiered Oppenheimer early this year. That drama created it to the West End on its personal merits I wonder whether or not, without having the megastar casting of Nicole Kidman, Anna Ziegler’s 2010 play Photograph 51 would have accomplished likewise.

Kidman was last seen on the London stage in David Hare’s The Blue Area in 1998. This time her kit remains on, and dowdy: Franklin has eyes only for her X-ray crystallography work on DNA at King’s College, London, without having which Crick and Watson over in Cambridge would almost undoubtedly not have cracked the secret of the double helix. (The play is titled following Franklin’s vital photo.) In Michael Grandage’s production, Kidman manages to animate the cold fish Franklin her attributes are fluidly even though not hugely mobile.


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Ziegler’s narrative centres on the reserved, prickly partnership among Franklin and her nominal superior Maurice Wilkins this is the spine on which the musculature of Historic Discovery is hung. Direct dialogue is intercut with narration, correspondence etc, practically all of the latter material getting delivered straight out to the audience. Absolutely everyone apart from Franklin argues about the information of the discovery, like postdoctoral student Donald Caspar, who wasn’t even there at the time.

It seems at very first to be an examination of divergent flavours of ambition: the driven versus the clubbable. Edward Bennett’s Francis Crick is the latter, as in his way is James Watson (Will Attenborough sporting a sandy Eraserhead quiff) Franklin is quite certainly in the former camp, and Wilkins (Stephen Campbell Moore producing an early foray into middle age) floats forlornly between the two.

Even so, the final quarter-hour or so of the 90-minute piece becomes increasingly glib and self-serving. The thesis appears much more and more overtly to be that excellent information comes at the expense of obtaining a life — literally in the case of Franklin, who died in 1958 of ovarian cancer, possibly triggered by the X-rays she worked with. A fantastical coda in which she and Wilkins bond over a shared fondness for Shakespeare dissipates the last possibilities that this may be art concerned a lot more with science than with itself.

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Our Country’s Great, National Theatre (Olivier), London

Cerys Matthews’ music lends beauty to Timberlake Wertenbaker’s play about the 1st convicts to land in Australia

From left: Jason Hughes as Ralph Clark, Jodie McNee as Liz Morden, Peter Forbes as Robbie Ross in 'Our Country's Good' at the National Theatre. Photo: Alastair Muir©Alastair Muir

From left: Jason Hughes as Ralph Clark, Jodie McNee as Liz Morden, Peter Forbes as Robbie Ross in ‘Our Country’s Good’ at the National Theatre. Photo: Alastair Muir

Botany Bay, 1788, and a lone Aboriginal Australian — half-naked, lithe — watches the Initial Fleet drift “on to the sea”. He is bemused by the interlopers with their half-dead prisoners and beastly ways. He is in tune with his landscape. He dances.(Choreography: Arthur Pita.)

Our Country’s Excellent is a play about a play performed by convicts in Australia. On one level, it is an optimistic ode to the redemptive energy of theatre.


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But optimism is in small supply at the Olivier. In Nadia Fall’s production the mood is punishing, corporal and capital — spare the noose and ruin the convict — and the gore is quite graphic. So graphic that paler shades are lost: so what if a young lieutenant misses his mrs? Who cares about kangaroos?

Beauty is not lost, even so. Timberlake Wertenbaker’s text contains practically no music, but Cerys Matthews has supplied some — and Josienne Clarke sings like a haunted angel. It is spellbinding.

Likewise the design by Peter McKintosh: blood-red, sea-blue, it goes up and down and round and round a strip of canvas hangs in the centre — a ship’s sail, dirty tents, a curtain for a theatre and the backdrop, a painting by Shane Pickett — an exquisite Aboriginal landscape which the stinking, pink-skinned colonials are not equipped to read.

It is a fine ensemble. Tadhg Murphy’s hangdog snitch is a terrific bag of angst Lee Ross plays Robert Sideway with excellent mirth and dignity Jodie McNee’s Liz Morden is a study in hurt and Debra Penny’s witty “Shitty” Meg lives up to her name in style.

It isn’t steamy in between the young lieutenant (Jason Hughes) and the convict Mary Brenham (Caoilfhionn Dunne), and more’s the pity. Each characters are cut from muted cloth, but if we are to think in the miracle powers of plays, their passion have to be passionate.

Fall is right to emphasise the nasty bits because the nice, hopeful bits — when a flogged man says, “when I say Kite’s lines I overlook everything else”, for instance — frequently sound trite. Right here is a almost excellent production of a nearly fantastic play.

To October 17,

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Section: Arts