Drawing: Aidan Turner in The Lieutenant of Innishmore

Autographed drawing of Aidan Turner in The Lieutenant of Inishmore at the Noel Coward Theatre in London's West End

Aidan Turner made his West End debut this month as the unhinged Padraic in Michael Grandage’s revival of Martin McDonagh’s brutal black comedy THE LIEUTENANT OF INNISHMORE at the Noel Coward Theatre. Padraic, turned down by the IRA for being ‘too mad’, and unable to be accommodated by any mainstream terrorist organisations, becomes a lieutenant in the INLA, a Republican paramilitary splinter group.

The Evening Standard’s Henry Hitchings called it, “FATHER TED colliding with RESERVOIR DOGS – or perhaps more appropriately Reservoir Cats.” Audiences first meet Padraic pulling out the the toenails of James, a Belfast drug pusher, chastising him for selling marijuana to good Catholic children as opposed to Protestant children, which he deems marginally acceptable. As he is about to slice James’s right nipple off he gets a call that from home that his beloved cat and only friend for the past 15 years ‘Wee Thomas’ is poorly. He breaks down sobbing and decides to immediately return to Innishmore to see his ailing moggy.

‘Wee Thomas’ is in fact dead, head smashed in, brains squeezed out ‘like toothpaste.’ Padraic seeks violent retribution – a sentimental psychopath’s overweening grief for his pet and indifference to human life – setting the tone for the rest of the play. As Henry Hitchings observes he “plays him, not as some wide-eyed barbarian, but as a man endowed with demented innocence.”

“This is TITUS ANDRONICUS played for laughs,” wrote Michael Billington in the Guardian, who said, “Aidan Turner is terrific in this shocking comedy.” A sentiment shared by all.
I met Aidan on a quiet Thursday afternoon, before the run started, as he was leaving the theatre for a brief break from final preparations. We were able to have a very pleasant, uninterrupted chat as he signed this rehearsal rendering, prior to the POLDARK and HOBBIT hoards descending once the season got underway.

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Drawing: Monica Seles

Autographed drawing of tennis player Monica Seles

While Monica Seles is regarded as one of the greatest female tennis players of all time, many believe she had the potential to be the most accomplished in the sport, if it wasn’t for the stabbing that took place at the height of her career that kept her out of the tour for two years.

Born and raised in Yugoslavia from Hungarian descent, Monica started playing tennis at the age of five, coached by her father, a professional cartoonist, who used to drew her pictures to make the lessons fun. She turned professional in May 1989 at the age of 15 and won her first Grand Slam, the French Open, the following year, the youngest ever to win at Roland Garros. It was a tournament she would win for three consecutive years, adding three Australian and two US titles to collect 8 Grand Slams before the age of twenty, becoming the year end Number 1 in 1991 and 1992.

On April 1993, while playing in Hamburg, a deranged fan of Stefi Graf (her main rival at the time) rushed onto the court and stabbed her in the back with a 9 inch knife. While the wound healed relatively quickly, it would be two years before she returned playing tennis again and was unable to consistently find her best form.

Monica did however win her fourth Australian Open in 1996 and a Bronze medal in the singles at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. She played her last professional match at the 2003 French Open, but officially retired in 2008.

Monica was a special guest at the WTA pre-Wimbledon ‘Tennis On The Thames’ event on London’s Southbank a few weeks ago, where she signed my drawing.

Drawing: Miriam Margoyles in Madame Rubinstein

Autographed drawing of Miriam Margoyles in Madame Rubinstein at the Park Theatre in London

In May last year the irresistible BAFTA Award-winning actress Miriam Margoyles returned to the London stage in the titular role of Jez Bond’s MADAME RUBINSTEIN at the Park Theatre. The play centres around the intense rivalry between 20th century cosmetic giants Helena Rubinstein and Elizabeth Arden (played by Frances Barber). Coincidently, it was also the subject of WAR PAINT, a simultaneous production on Broadway with Patti LuPone and Christine Ebersole.

I last saw Miriam as Nell in Samuel Beckett’s ENDGAME at the Duchess Theatre in 2009. Three years earlier she was one of the original cast members of the musical WICKED, as Madame Morrible at the Apollo and subsequently at the George Gershwin Theatre on Broadway. HARRY POTTER fans will know her as Professor Pomona Sprout. I’m a big fan of her THE REAL MARIGOLD HOTEL travel doco series… and told her so.

Her ‘comic tour de force’ in MADAME RUBINSTEIN was described by Alun Hood in his WhatsOnStage review. “Margoyles plays Rubinstein-so imperious that even her own children call her ‘Madame’-to the absolute hilt: she’s brash, amoral, manipulative, paranoid, rude, crazy: a bejewelled gorgon in a pillar box red dress. She is also, in Margoyles’ endlessly skilled hands, utterly irresistible.”

Miriam is a humanitarian advocate for many causes. I managed to catch-up with her when she arrived at the Royal Society of Medicine last Friday evening for The Silver Line’s fundraising event, which operates a 24 hour helpline for older people, where she signed my Madame R sketch.

Drawing: David Haig in Pressure

Autographed drawing of David Haig in Pressure at the Ambassadors Theatre on London's West End

It’s been called the most important weather forecast of all time. In June 1944, over 150,000 Allied troops would land on five sites in France, in what would prove to be one of the most decisive actions of WWll. After months of meticulous planning, ‘Operation Overlord’ was set to go, but there was one crucial aspect which the military commanders couldn’t control: the weather.

It’s the focus of the wartime drama PRESSURE, written by Olivier Award winner David Haig. The play is set over a 72-hour period leading up to the launch of the operation. Chief meteorologist, Group Captain James Stagg, played by David is the weather adviser to the overall commander General Dwight Eisenhower. Despite a heatwave, Stagg calculates the weather will turn nasty at the time the invasion is scheduled, risking the lives of thousands. This is contrary to the prediction of American celebrity weatherman, Colonel Irving Krick. Stagg has to convince Eisenhower that he is right, delaying the operation by a week, waiting for the weather to improve.

After premiering at Edinburgh’s Lyceum Theatre in May 2014 to critical acclaim and transferring to the Chichester Festival Theatre at the end of the same month, the original production has now been revived at the West End’s Ambassador Theatre, coinciding with the 74th anniversary of the D-Day landings.

The always affable David, signed my sketch last month at the Ambassadors stage door.

Drawing: Dame Hilary Mantel

Autographed drawing of author Hilary Mantel

The final signed sketch in this week’s writers series is Dame Hilary Mantel, who I was lucky to meet after her second appearance at the Man Booker 50 Series, the weekend long festival dedicated to the 50th anniversary of the Man Booker Prize at various venues in London’s Southbank Centre. Dame Hilary has won the Booker twice-the first British author and only woman to win it more than once.

In 2009 WOLF HALL, the fictional account of Thomas Cromwell’s rapid rise to power the court of Henry VIII collected the award and three years later the sequel to the dark Tudor tale, BRING UP THE BODIES repeated the win.

The third instalment in the Cromwell trilogy, THE MIRROR AND THE LIGHT is in progress. Described by the judges as an “extraordinary piece of storytelling”, this very modern novel, which happens to be set in the 16th Century, the 650 page WOLF HALL was also one of the five shortlisted books for the special one-off Golden Man Booker anniversary prize, to select the best work of fiction over the five decades of Britain’s most prestigious literary accolade.

I managed to catch Dame Hilary as she left the Purcell Room on Saturday afternoon , where she signed this quick portrait sketch for me.

Drawing: Christopher Hampton

Autographed drawing of writer Chris Hampton

I had always missed Christopher Hampton at various play openings and other events around London over the past few years. He was someone I really wanted to meet. When I heard he was part of the ‘Page to Screen’ panel at last weekend’s Man Booker 50 festival I quickly did this sketch and made my way to the Queen Elizabeth Hall on London’s Southbank on Saturday afternoon. Although Chris has not won a Booker Prize, he has pretty much won everything else.

The celebrated British playwright, screenwriter and translator’s 1985 play of seduction and revenge, LES LIAISONS DANGEREUSES, adapted from the 1782 novel of the same name by Pierce Choderlos de Laclos, won the Olivier Award for Best New Play after its run at The Pit theatre in the Barbican and a Tony nomination when it transferred to Broadway’s Music Box Theatre.

The film version, DANGEROUS LIAISONS directed by Stephen Frears collected multiple awards. Chris won both the Oscar and the BAFTA as well as the London Critics’ Circle and the Writers Guild of America Awards for his screenplay adaption. In 1995 he won two Tony Awards; Best Original Score and Best Book of a Musical; for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s SUNSET BOULEVARD.

The stage door at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, or as the Southbank Centre people like to call it, the ‘Artists’ Entrance’ is tucked away around the back of the venue between it and the British Film Institute in a concrete canyon opposite a multi-storied car park. A tricky place to find, as an acclaimed writer found out. However, for stalkers armed with sharpies, it’s an essential part of our MO.

When I saw a person who looked lost and more importantly, looked like my drawing, I was able to use my sense of direction for mutual gain, assisting Chris to the said entrance in return for signing the said rendering. Reciprocity is always a good thing in this business… plus we had a nice chat as I helped him successfully complete his journey.

Drawing: Eleanor Catton

Autographed drawing of author Eleanor Catton

It’s always nice to catch up with a fellow kiwi in London, and in this case a very distinguished New Zealander, Man Booker Prize winner Eleanor Catton. Born in Canada, while her father completed his doctorate at the University of Western Ontario, she grew up in Christchurch on east coast of NZ’s South Island. Eleanor’s second novel, THE LUMINARIES won the Man Booker Prize in 2013.

At the age of 28, she was the youngest recipient of the prestigious literary award. It was also the longest book to win, with 832 pages. The chair of the judging panel, Robert Macfarlane said, “It’s a dazzling work. It’s a luminous work. It is vast without being sprawling.”

Set in 1866, THE LUMINARIES follows Walter Moody, a prospector who heads to Hokitika on the opposite coast to Christchurch to make his fortune in the goldfields, but stumbles on a meeting of twelve local men and is drawn into a complex mystery that is covering up a series of unsolved crimes. Each of the twelve men are associated with the twelve signs of the zodiac, astrological principles, the sun and the moon – ‘the luminaries’ in the title. Each of the novel’s twelve parts decreases in length to mimic the waning of the moon. As Eleanor herself said, “It’s a kind of weird sci-fi fantasy thing.”

Eleanor was in London over the weekend speaking at the ‘Series Man Booker 50′ as part of the 50th anniversary celebrations of the Prize. I met her at the Queen Elizabeth Hall Artists’ Entrance on Saturday, where we ‘conversed in kiwi’ as she signed my sketch.

Drawing: Sir Kazuo Ishiguro

Autographed drawing of author Sir Kazuo Ishiguro

Japanese-born British author and Nobel laureate Kazuo Ishiguro moved to the UK with his family in 1960, when he was five years old. Since then he has become one of the most celebrated contemporary fiction writers in the English-speaking world.

Among his many accolades are four Booker Prize nominations, winning in 1989 with THE REMAINS OF THE DAY, written in first person, recounting the butler Stevens’ professional and personal relationship with a former colleague, the housekeeper Miss Kenton. The 1993 film version starring Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson was nominated for eight Academy Awards. His 2005 novel NEVER LET ME GO was also shortlisted for the Booker, with TIME magazine citing it as the Best Novel of the Year and was also adapted into a successful film in 2010.

Last year the Swedish Academy awarded him the Nobel Prize in Literature, with the citation, as a writer “who, in novels of great emotional force has uncovered the abyss beneath our illusory sense of connection with the world.” This year he was knighted in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list.

Sir Kazuo signed my sketch at the Artists Entrance to the Royal Festival Hall on Sunday as he arrived to take part in the ‘Series Man Booker 50’, celebrating half a century of the prestigious literary prize.

Drawing: Michael Ondaatje

Autographed drawing of author Michael Ondaatje

Sri-Lanka-born Canadian author Michael Ondaatje’s 1992 Booker Prize winning novel THE ENGLISH PATIENT was awarded the special, one-off Golden Man Booker award last night, to mark the 50th Anniversary of the prestigious literary accolade. All 52 previous winners were eligible, with the judges shortlisting five – one for each decade – IN A FREE STATE (1971) by V.S.Naipaul, MOON TIGER (1987) by Penelope Lively, THE ENGLISH PATIENT, WOLF HALL (2009) by Hilary Mantel and LINCOLN IN THE BARDO (2017) by George Sanders. The prize has been shared on two occasions, one being in 1992 when THE ENGLISH PATIENT and Barry Unsworth’s SACRED HUNGER were chosen as joint winners. The final Golden Prize was selected by public poll.

THE ENGLISH PATIENT centres around the eponymous ‘English patient’, Count Laszlo de Almasy, burned and disfigured in a plane crash during the North Africa Campaign of WWII, who tells his story in flashbacks, involving a romantic affair, while being attended by Hana, a young Canadian nurse. He is believed to be English, but main his identity is revealed, little by little culminating in the great irony of the novel, he’s not English, but Hungarian… an “international bastard” who has spent most of his adult life wandering the desert. The 1996 film adaption featuring Ralph Fiennes as Almasy won nine Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director for the late Anthony Minghella.

Michael signed my sketch at the Royal Festival Hall when he arrived yesterday afternoon as part of the ‘Man Booker 50’ series of lectures, workshops and discussions over the weekend, prior to the announcement of the Golden Man Booker Prize last night.

Drawing: Stephanie Corley, Quirijn de Lang and Zoe Rainey in Kiss Me Kate

Autographed drawing of Stephanie Corley, Quirijn deLang and Zoe Rainey in Kiss Me Kate at the London Coliseum

Opera North’s award-winning production of Cole Porter’s Broadway comedy classic KISS ME KATE has just completed it’s very brief one-week run at the London Coliseum. The West End debut was also at the same venue, opening on March 8 1951, after premiering at the New Century Theatre on Broadway two years earlier, winning 5 Tony Awards.

This farcical battle of the sexes is set both on and off-stage during the production of a musical version of Shakespeare’s THE TAMING OF THE SHREW, revolving around the tempestuous love lives of actor-manager Fred Graham and his leading lady and ex-wife Lilli Vanessi. Add to the mix, Fred’s current paramour Lois Lane, her gambler boyfriend Bill and a couple of pursuing gangsters and you have the perfect set-up for ‘showbiz shannagians’.

After an initial run at the Theatre Grand Leeds in May, this production transferred to London and is now at the Edinburgh’s Festival Theatre. This ‘jubilant marriage of Porter and the Bard’ had the critics buzzing. The best comment was in the Guardian’s five-star review – “So hot, it’s practically a fire risk”.

Acclaimed opera singers Stephanie Corley and Quirijn de Lang play the lead roles-Lilli/Kate and Fred/Petruchio respectively. West End star Zoe Rainey is Lois/Bianca. I left this montage sketch at the stage door and it came back yesterday, signed and dedicated.