Drawing: Georgia Jarman in Król Roger

Georgia Jarman in Krol Roger

Brilliant American soprano Georgia Jarman made her Royal Opera debut as Roxana in Karol Szymanowski’s masterpiece Król Roger (King Roger) which finished this week. Kasper Holten’s “devastating” production was the first time in almost 40 years that the 1926 Polish opera was on a London stage.

A mysterious shepherd is brought before 12th century King Roger of Sicily. The church officials want him punished for his pagan preaching of love and pleasure but Roger’s Queen Roxana has converted and pleads with her husband to let the shepherd speak. Things fall apart from that point, as the charismatic stranger gains power.

“The singing – notably by Kwiecien, Jarman and Pirgu – is superb” wrote Michael Church in The Independent.

The New York Times even reviewed it, stating, “Georgia Jarman delivered Roxana’s show-stealing coloratura with immaculate style”.

The excellent staff at the Royal Opera House managed to get my sketch to Georgia on the final night, which she signed and added a kind dedication.

Sketch: Clare Higgins and Greg Hicks in Clarion at the Arcola Theatre

Clare Higgins and Greg Hicks

Multi-award winning actress Clare Higgins recently returned from her completed Broadway run of A Delicate Balance to star in the world premiere of former journo Mark Jagasia’s debut play Clarion for a five week run at the Arcola Theatre in East London.

Clare starred with fellow National Theatre veteran actor Greg Hicks in Arcola Artistic Director Mehmet Ergen’s lively production.

It’s a dark comedy about British media, set in the offices of Britain’s worst newspaper, The Daily Clarion, a toxic tabloid that specialises in sustained anti-immigrant rhetoric.

Greg plays the Clarion’s egomaniacal editor Morris Honeyspoon who spends his weekends dressed as Julius Caesar and Clare is washed up foreign correspondent Verity Stokes, a Fleet Street legend who is, as Michael Billington describes, “less well-preserved than constantly pickled”. He writes, “Jagasia has created a genuine modern monster scorchingly embodied by Hicks”.

Clare said in an interview for The Evening Standard, “it’s a necessary play. It describes what is going on in the underbelly of the pages we flip through every morning. Not only did it make me laugh, it made me think.”

The Arcola Theatre is a studio theatre in Dalston, in the London borough of Hackney. It features two studios seating up to 240 and two rehearsal rooms. It describes itself as “locally engaged and internationally minded” staging a diverse programme of plays, operas and musicals. It also runs a number of community arts activities, including youth drama and a writers programme. TimeOut call it “an undisputed powerhouse,” and the Stage said “the Arcola is one of the great success stories of British theatre” and what’s more their extremely friendly and helpful staff passed my sketch on to Clare and Greg to sign for me.

Sketch: Michael Urie in Buyer and Cellar

Michael Urie

What would it be like to work in Barbara Streisand‘s personal shopping mall in the basement of her Malibu mansion? That is the subject of American actor Michael Urie’s one man show Buyer and Cellar, which just completed a run at London’s Menier Chocolate Factory, transferring from New York.

From that one quirky but true premise, New York playwright Jonathan Tolins has created an outrageously funny monologue about Alex More – the sole employee in the music legend’s private collections of antiques, clothes, and toys presented in various boutiques… a “dream refuge”.

Alex is “hired to work in the in the mall and describes his journey from mock merchant to Gypsy acting coach via a ‘religious ecstasy’ in front of the  ‘people dress’ through short sharp and wonderfully witty vignettes” describes Ben Hewis in his four star WhatsOnStage review.

Michael portrays every character from the eccentric and authoritative diva herself to her hubby James Brolin and Alex’s head tossing, vindictive boyfriend, Barry.

The New York Times called it “a delicious target for satire… a featherweight but irresistible play about celebrity false bonding, the solitude of uber-fame and the seductive allure of expensive chintz.”

I interrupted Michael as he was pressing the entry code at the Chocolate Factory’s stage door on the final day of his London season. He didn’t mind the interruption and loved the sketch… as you can see by the dedication, before he went out to work in “Babs basement’.

Sketch: Imelda Staunton in Gypsy

imelda gypsy

Jonathan Kent’s dazzling revival of Julie Styne and Stephen Sondheim’s Gypsy has gathered a galaxy of five star reviews, in particular for Imelda Stunton in the lead role of the legendary Momma Rose.

Transferring from Chichester Festival Theatre, the production has extended its run at London’s Savoy due to huge demand. It is considered by many to be America’s greatest musical, playing Broadway no less than five times, this is the first showing of the celebrated musical in London in over 40 years.

In what Matt Trueman in Variety calls, “a helluva performance… Staunton makes Momma Rose every bit the equal of Willy Loman, Arthur Miller’s doomed salesman, but where he hawks his wares door-to-door, she’s selling her family.”

Tom Eames in Digital Spy simply states “Staunton is ridiculously brilliant as Rose” and Michael Billington in The Guardian says it’s “one of the greatest performances I’ve ever seen in musical theatre”.

Sondheim was so impressed with Imelda’s turn as Mrs Lovett in Sweeney Todd that he insisted she starred as Momma Rose in this revival, often called Broadway’s answer to King Lear, due to Momma Rose’s single minded devotion and delusional attempts to turn her two daughters into vaudeville stars.

When people first see the diminutive Imelda off stage, they are taken aback. One lady whispered to her friend at the stat door after a performance,”how can so much power come out of that tiny person?”

I was told that Imelda was only signing programmes, so out of respect for that I left my sketch with the stage door team with a return envelope. As usual, Imelda sent it back, graphed, a five six star signer.

Sketch: Vote for Me: A Musical Debate

Vote for me

After an off-Broadway run to packed houses at the Roy Aria’s Stages last summer, Vote For Me – a musicalised presidential debate – hit London this month. The musical was commissioned by Robyn Goodman, the producer of Avenue Q, written by Drew Fornarola and Scott Elmegreen, and directed by Dom O’Hanlon. Candidates dance and sing their way through the three ring circus of American politics and the audience actually cast their votes to help determine the outcome of the show.

The show is staged by The London Theatre Workshop combining commercial theatre, workshops, staged readings and education for up and coming artists and musicians. It’s ‘home’ is a brand new 65 seat studio theatre located above the impressive Eel Brook pub in South West London. It’s an independent theatre company that doesn’t receive funding so is reliant on ticket sales. My wife and I were guests of Official Theatre on the evening of the UK Election, so we got to vote twice that day!

The US presidential race is between Senator Buddy Rounsaville (Hans Rye) and Governor Janet Tilghman (Emily Lynne), supported by their respective spouses Amy (Jennie Jacobs) and Roger (Arvid Larson) and advisor (Joe Leather) and TV host Robyn (Lucy Grainger).

The show is a 90 minute wurlitzer with a cast that is one of the most energetic and enthusiastic I’ve ever seen – both on and off the stage. I drew this sketch after the show and went back before a Sunday matinee ‘cornering’ them going in. They were all very friendly and happily signed the drawing. Life may imitate art with the US Presidential Elections next year and the possibility of Hillary Clinton in the mix.

I even got to chat with Dom the director and the two writers Drew and Scott, who had just flown out from the States for a Q&A. Vote for Me runs until 23 May at London Theatre Workshop, above the Eel Brook pub, near Fulham Broadway station.

Sketch: Finty Williams

Finty Williams

Tara Cressida Frances “Finty” Williams always seemed destined to have an acting career with both parents – Dame Judi Dench and Michael Williams – well established in the business. In a Telegraph interview Dame Judi said they did try and dissuade Finty from following them, but “Finty is very much her own woman”.

She has appeared on screen with her mother a number of times, including Mrs Brown (1997), The Importance of Being Earnest (2002) and the award winning TV series Cranford  (2007).

I first met Finty at the Duke of York’s Theatre in London when she featured in Alan Ayckbourn’s Bedroom Farce in October 2009. She played Kate, who WhatsOnStage described as, “a ball of exuberant energy,” which this sketch is based on. Dame Judi and Finty joined an all star cast of 50 in Donmar Warehouse’s The Vote this month. Set in a fictional London polling station during the final ninety minutes before the polls close in this year’s general election, the final performance on the actual polling Day (7 May ) was televised live on More4.

They play, appropriately, mother and daughter who stroll on stage at 9.42pm and remain there for the final 18 minutes until curtain call. Even though things go a little hectic after the election night show, Flinty stopped to sign my sketch for me.

Sketch: Matt Tedford as Margaret Thatcher, Queen of Soho

Matt Tedford

The Huffington Post said, “Matthew Tedford gives a five star performance as the late Prime Minister,” in its review of the award winning actor, comedian and writer’s Margaret Thatcher, Queen of Soho which played the Leicester Square Theatre in London earlier this year.

Co-written with Jon Brittain, the camp comic cabaret is a re-imagining of the events leading up to the passing of the controversial Section 28 in 1988 that banned the ‘promotion’ of homosexuality in schools. Matt’s ‘Maggie’ takes a wrong turn in Soho and ends up as an unlikely drag diva. Yes… the Iron Lady becomes a gay rights championing cabaret superstar!

Margaret Thatcher still remains the United Kingdom’s longest running and only female Prime Minister (1979-1990). Before running the country, she was a research chemist and actually invented the chemical that makes soft serve ice cream…

The show played to full houses around the UK and Ireland, culminating in a total sell out season at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival last year. Not only did Matt sign, but his alter ego did as well, bonus!