• Amy Toledano

The Long Letter presented by The Footnotes Theatre Company

Image courtesy of Karl Baker

What Is It?

This is The Footnotes Theatre Company’s debut play, with original music. Written and performed by a multi-disciplinary, multi-rolling cast, The Long Letter draws on the forthcoming book, George Canning is my Son, by Julian Crowe, which is based on two decades of historical research. It was first performed as a rehearsed reading with music at the 2019 Telegraph Hill Festival.

What Is It About?

The Long Letter is about the life of eighteenth-century actress Mary Ann Hunn, who is better remembered in history as the mother of eventual Prime Minister George Canning. Following a series of tragedies, she finds herself widowed, penniless, and pregnant. She decides to make ends meet as an actress, having little other choice. This results in a fall from grace in society as she becomes estranged from her politically ambitious son.

The title refers to the 60,000-word missive she wrote to her son in 1803, explaining her past and her struggles in the hope that he would be reconciled to her. It is through this framing device that the play unfolds.

How Did It Make Me Feel?

The play does well at highlighting the struggles of women trying to make their own way, then and now. It doesn’t shy away from the injustice of some of the burdens Hunn had to endure: “Life is full of traps for women on their own.” And though the play ends on a more positive piece of correspondence, wherein Hunn boasts that, “George Canning is my son,” I went away feeling sad that after being put through all that, she was still defined in terms of her relations. This works well at offering a glimpse into the complexity of motherhood, though it is contrary to the programme text; George Canning is not just a footnote in this story, and can never be one as long as he holds this much importance to Hunn. But it’s not just about motherhood; the aftertaste is that of a tribute to the challenges and joys of life as an actor, and one of the most effective scenes involves a play-within-a-play rendition of the final duel from Hamlet.

That said, the play could have shown more focus in exploring Hunn’s experiences, rather than giving us a general bird’s-eye view of a life’s worth of stories. The multi-rolling ensemble was strong and had good chemistry, but the narrative could have been streamlined with fewer characters and scenes. Trying to fit several hours’ worth of story into a single hour resulted in the impression of telling, rather than showing. Perhaps this is why the stage felt busy at times, with the direction putting a lot of ensemble’s energy into props, scene and costume changes that were often unnecessary. There were scenes where the actors’ talents were allowed to shine through—Daphne Jayasinghe is definitely one to watch, and Abigail Kessel has some of the sharpest comedic timing you’ll ever see, lending uniqueness to each of the many characters she plays.

Where Is It Playing?

The Long Letter will be playing at the White Bear Theatre until the 18th January 2020.

Anything Else?

The company’s backgrounds include acting, music, and dance, and this shows through in the original songs. I would be interested in seeing how this play might evolve.

Arden x

The Long Letter is playing at the White Bear Theatre until the 18th January 2020.

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