Drawing: Holly Walsh

holly walsh

Acclaimed English comedian, comedy writer and Chortle Award winner Holly Walsh performed her new show Never Had It this week at London’s Soho Theatre after a successful run at the Edinburgh Fringe last year.

“It” in the show’s title refers to the “je ne sais quoi” – that elusive combination of charisma and insouciance possessed by people who make life look easy. Holly’s self confessed ‘lack of cool’ has, however, become an advantage, turning it into a successful comedy career which began in 2005 when she took an evening class in standup to escape being an art gallery assistant.

The rest, as they say, is ‘herstory’. Within a year she found an agent, made the final of several nationwide new act competitions and began writing for comedy shows, including Radio 4. Since then she has appeared on Mock the Week, Would I Lie to You, and Never Mind the Buzzcocks. As the blurb on the Soho Theatre site says “Some people have got ‘it’. Holly most definitely does not. But who needs ‘it’ when you’ve got a Gold Duke Of Edinburgh Award and nearly two thousand Nectar points?”

‘Graphing at the Soho requires a bit of strategic management i.e. purchase a pilsner and position oneself at the ideal interception point. At the Soho that’s usually at the table adjacent to the door between the foyer and the hospitality area. This is usually a bottleneck akin to the Northern Line at 8am. Mind the Gap.

On Thursday evening I got lucky. There was a gap between shows so the flow of pedestrians was manageable for me to identify the target… I mean talent.

The norm – and I use the term very lightly – is that the performers appear after the audience and this duly happened. This sequence can be crucial, and avoids one asking a number of look-alikes and impostors to sign your sketch before you stop the real one. I speak from experience here, they don’t have their name stamped on their foreheads.

Holy conformed to the norm and moments later appeared from the downstairs stage in clear view. I immediately recognised her distinctive big, bright eyes and smile and she recognised herself in the sketch (always a bonus) and happily signed it.

I still had time to finish my ale in a relaxed fashion and no longer looking like a stalker before assuming the position at a West End stage door later in the evening.

Sunny Afternoon

Sunny afternoon

It turned into a great night for Sunny Afternoon at last week’s Olivier Awards, when the musical based on the early life of English rock musician Ray Davies and the formation of the band The Kinks stole the show with four gongs including Best New Musical.

Formed in Muswell Hill, London by brothers Dave and Ray Davies with Pete Quaife in 1963 The Kinks rose to fame during the mid-60s and were part of the British Invasion of the US. They are considered one of the most important and influential rock groups of that era. Throughout its 32 year run, The Kinks songs occupied top positions on the UK charts with hits including Lola, You Really Got Me, Waterloo Sunset and Sunny Afternoon.

Written by Joe Penhall with music and lyrics by Ray, Sunny Afternoon, The Musical’s title is based on the 1966 UK singles chart number one of the same name. It made its world premiere in 2014 at the Hampstead Theatre where it enjoyed critical and commercial success with a sell out limited run before transferring to the Harold Pinter Theatre in London’s West End.

At the Oliviers Ray won the Outstanding Achievement in Music Award along with John Dagleish (as Ray) for Best Actor in a Musical and George Maguire (as Dave) for Best Supporting Actor in a Musical, which was deserved but not expected.

I met both John and George on a somewhat chilly overcast afternoon yesterday, but they brightened the day singing my sketch and some very complementary comments – two of the nicest guys I’ve met in all the time I’ve stalked stage doors, I congratulated both on the their Olivier success and George said, “it was great… I guess the underdog won.”

Theatre Sketch: The Nether

The Nether The Nether – the future term for the internet, offers complete freedom – a new virtual wonderland providing total sensory immersion in a dystopian future. Los Angeles based dramatist Jennifer Haley’s award-winning play, directed by Jeremy Herrin, transferred to London’s Duke of York’s Theatre for a limited 12 week run after a sold out season at The Royal Court. Charles Spencer wrote his review for the Telegraph, “Stanley Townsend is memorably sinister and devious as the owner of the site… in this haunting and highly original modern fairy tale.”

Award winning Irish actor Stanley Townsend plays Sims, who in the guise of Poppa creates The Hideaway where “guests” can do unspeakable things to a 12 year old avatar named Iris. His acting credits include Whistle Blower, Heartbeat, Jonathan Creek, Ballykissangel, A Touch of Frost, The Bill, Ashes to Ashes and Ripper Street for TV and films In the Name of The Father, Happy Go Lucky and Killing Bono.

Included in The Nether’s four Olivier Award nominations was a Supporting Actress recognition for the four ‘young Iris’s’ – Isabella Pappas, Jaime Adler, Perdita Hibbins, Zoe Brough. Zoe left the production to take up her role as Blousey Brown in Bugsy Malone at the Lyric Hammersmith, but I met the other three at the theatre where they along with Stanley signed my sketch.

Drawing: Brian Jagde

Brian Jagde

American tenor Brian Jagde made his Royal Opera debut this month as opera’s most notorious love ’em and leave ’em characters, Lieutenant BF Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly. His bio describes him as “one of the most engaging and exciting lirico-spinto tenors of his generation”. Having not encountered such a description, I looked it up. Apparently it is a voice that is versatile enough to sing a lighter or darker, more powerful sound when required.

Brian’s many awards include second prize and the Birgit Nisson Prize at Operalia 2012 and first prize at the 2014 Loren L. Zachary National Vocal Competition.

After missing him at the Royal Opera House, I returned on Saturday morning and swam my way to the stage door, emerging from the Covent Garden tube station to encounter a monsoon, but avoided water damage to the sketch.

The security people didn’t know who Brian was, I said (with charade actions) “tall with bright eyes”. They clicked! It was worth it. Not only did he sign my sketch, but wrote a lovely note wanting to see more of my drawings. I’ll send him another original.

Sketch: Anne Sofie von Otter

Anne Sofie von OtterAward-winning Swedish mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter’s repertoire encompasses lieder, operas, oratorios and rock and pop songs. Her busy concert career has brought her regularly to the major halls of Europe and North America.

At this year’s Grammy Awards, Anne won for Best Classical Solo Vocal Album with Douce France on Nai’ve Classique. This was her second Grammy, having won in 2004 for Best Classical Vocal Performance. She ahas received numerous nominations.

In 1995 she was appointed Hovsangerska by the King of Sweden which is literally ‘Court Singer’ – a title awarded by the Swedish monarch to a singer who has contributed to the International standing of Swedish singing.

Last month Anne made an anticipated return to the Royal Opera House as Leokadja Begbick in John Fulljames’ new production of The Rise and Fall of The City of Mahogany under conducter Mark Wigglesworth.

“Anne Sofie von Otter sings and struts splendidly as the widow Begbik” wrote William Hartston in the Express. She sings, struts and signs splendidly, ‘graphing my sketch after her final performance last week.

Drawing: Christine Rice

Christine Rice

Olivier nominated British mezzo-soprano Christine Rice is one of the leading operatic performers of her generation, regularly appearing in all the major venues across Europe, including Covent Garden, The Frankfurt Opera, The Teatro Real in Madrid, the Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich and also the New York Metropolitan Opera.

Christine intended to follow a career in science like her chemistry lecturer father. She studied physics at Balliol College, Oxford, but her Doctorate was interrupted by a gap tar at the Royal Northern College of Music and her career path took a musical turn.

Since then she’s played a variety of roles, such as a vile punk brat in drag or a  a Nero in Handel’s Agrippina, snorting ice sugar representing cocaine and wearing a prosthetic male appendage during one of her virtuoso arias to the sex starved Concepcion of Ravels’ one act farce L’Henre Espagnole, to name only two extremes. She’s also played Carmen and is notable for her Handelian roles such as Rinaldo, Arsace and Ariodante.

Christine has just finished Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill’s impassioned operatic satire on consumerism, The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahogany at the Royal Opera House where she played a prostitute, Jenny, of which The Guardian’s Andrew Clements said, “The tart with at least a semblance of a heart is totally convincing.”

Christine signed this sketch of her in the role and also sent me a nice note, loving the drawing, which is always gratefully received.

Sketch: Frankie Boyle

Frankie Boyle

Scottish comedian Francis Martin Patrick Boyle, known to all as Frankie, is one of the UK’s most popular and most controversial comics.

His genres are listed as one-liners, black comedy, blue comedy, surreal humour, improvisational comedy, insult comedy, pessimistic humour and political satire and he is exceptional at all of them, if not everyone’s cup of tea.

He once said he planned to quit stand up before he turned 40, but thankfully that age has passed and he’s still performing live. Frankie’s currently doing ‘work in progress’ shows around London. He did a short run at The Phoenix near Oxford Circus, where I caught up with him… with some trepidation, given his stage persona.

But I needn’t have worried, he was extremely pleasant as he arrived and headed to the basement performance area, in spite being interrupted by a ‘grapher wanting his pencil scribble signed at the precise moment his pen decided to slip through the hole in his jacket pock and lodge in the lining…

I quickly grabbed another pen from my bag and thanked Frankie for his patience and for his ‘graph and dedication. Sigh of comic relief… reminding myself of the first rule of autograph collecting, make sure you give them something to sign with!