Tuesday, 15 September 2020

Mr Foote's Other Leg.

 Oh my giddy aunt, what a life. You could not make it up. Well, actually, I suppose you could but you would have a tough time convincing anyone reading it it was a true tale. Yet, like the legends of The Force, it is all true and almost entirely forgotten. All the more astonishing when you consider that for a brief time the name of Samuel Foote was known wherever the English language was spoken. Mind you, in fairness, that brief time was way back in 1776 and quite a lot has happened in the world since...ahem.

              Samuel Foote's rise to fame and tumble into shame and infamy is a tale worth telling and the writer Ian Kelly does an admirable job of it. The details of this man's bizarre and complex life would stretch credulity despite the best efforts of any writer. his brief but brilliant flame burning all too brightly all too briefly. In that way that certain luminous beings do. Oddly, his life story holds a warped mirror to the times we are presently trying to navigate. It should act as a cautionary tale to those who seek to traverse the hazardous waters that are the way to success and fame based wealth. This was a man who defied the strict conventions of his age, performing in female attire, a successful trans entertainer in an age when gender roles were rigidly defined and reinforced. And, most astonishingly of all, he wrote and performed a series of roles for the stage created specifically for one legged actors, following a practical joke which went disastrously wrong, resulting in the loss of one of his legs. A terrible experience he narrowly survived to become a successful performer and a much loved national personality, although in the end it was a combination of the mores of his age which served to bring him down. 

               The eighteenth century had never seen anything like him, his career a perplexing mix of the real and the imagined. Real life actually bled into his performances, as he made the ups and downs of his life the very stuff of his act.His life experiences and the details of them served as an inspiration for his act. These details being well known thanks primarily to his own writing as he reasoned he might as well be the author of his woes as opposed to someone else doing it. Becoming a player in his own play rather than a cog in the life plans of someone else. Fame and infamy both sides of the same sword weilded to progress in the fashion of the ultimte rake of his time and the night must have its rakes, after all. 

               The characters who populated Samuel Foote's life reads like a whos who of the Georgian Era. If you were in Samuel Foote's little black book you were worth knowing, from the cream of the acting profession (in this era that profession was viewed as the home of wastrels and jackanapes.)although some of his fellow thespians were less than enamored by this one-man spitting image machine. He would write and perform satirical sketches based on events of the day, lampooning pomposity and class based entitlement making him the darling of the baying galleries who mercilessly wolfed down his razor sharp and precise witticisms.  Playful and wicked, bizzarrely heroic, he was loathed and admired, castigated and feted. A scandal generating "celebrity" who was giving birth to the nationally accepted notion of celebrity. his first truly major success being a detailed account of a murder which took place within his own extended family.A fratricide, a date with the gallows, the poor and the rich lapped it up in much the same way that todays red tops and scandal sheets masquerading as newspapers continue to do. 

                The misjudged and truthfully regretted practical joke which cost him his leg lifted him, after a hard won recovery, to even more success and a semi-protected status, in a truly mind boggling series of events.  It really is the most amazing story, this tale of a mercurial man living through the Georgian era of social and political upheaval.  He was eventually to be brought down by a sex scandal , when a surly ex-footman...re,footeman?..accused him of a lewd act, which resulted in a public trial that dominated the newsprint of the age, throwing shade on the then current dtails of the American War of Independence, which off course was not as interesting as a celebrity sex scandal...

               ..the more things change the more they stay the same...