Although Samuel Foote and Ira Aldridge may seem an improbable pairing, both have featured in recent plays on the London stage. Foote, an eighteenth-century actor and playwright, is portrayed in Mr Foote’s Other Leg, played by Simon Russell Beale, while Ira Aldridge, the nineteenth-century African-American actor, appears in Red Velvet played by Adrian Lester.
Both had dramatic lives to equal any play. Strangely, both performed Othello, Foote in 1744 to “universal applause” (although the run itself was ultimately unsuccessful), while 90 years later Aldridge made his West End debut in the same play to a favourable audience response but hostile press reaction. Foote went on to develop his own acting company and penned his own satires mocking the society of the day, fellow actors and the craze for auctions and the arts and antiquities market. His satirical and, not so subtle, attacks on society were to end in trouble when he crossed swords with Elizabeth Chudleigh, duchess of Kingston, during her trial for bigamy. The play, Mr Foote’s Other Leg, is an ironic reference to the loss of a leg after a horse riding accident. Undeterred, Foote continued to act and used two wooden legs; one a simple leg, the other decorated with a silk stocking and buckled shoe (for use on stage). Published rumours of homosexuality, followed by a charge from one of his servants in similar vein, wrecked his spirit. Though cleared of all charges he was to die soon after.
Aldridge, born in New York City, moved to England in 1824, and in the following year he made his stage debut in The Revolt of Surinam, or, A Slave’s Revenge, playing Oronooko. After the failure of his 1833 Othello he toured much of Europe, returning to Britain to a much more respectful press. He died in Poland, while on tour, in 1867.
Both actors are represented in BBIH, coincidently with 16 references each. Using the Person as subject serach.
Despite the danger of becoming a mere plugger for the London theatre scene, I can’t help but note that a play about the life of actress and royal mistress, Nell Gwynn, is also appearing on the London stage, so it may be that another post on actresses in the British theatre beckons.