Drawing: Jodie Comer in PRIMA FACIE

Autographed Drawing of Jodie Comer in Prima Facie on West End

“West End debuts don’t come much more astonishing than this solo tour de force by Jodie Comer,” wrote The Telegraph’s Chief Theatre Critic Dominic Cavendish in his five-star review of the 90 minute, one-hander PRIMA FACIE, which ran this spring at the Harold Pinter Theatre, for a sold-out nine week season. The BAFTA and Emmy Award-winning actress plays Tessa Ensler, a brilliant barrister, who specialises in defending men accused of sexual assault, until she is raped by a colleague. It was only her second ever stage role, the first in Scarborough, thirteen years ago when she was 16, playing Ruby in THE PRICE OF EVERYTHING at the Stephen Joseph Theatre.

“The KILLING EVE star makes a masterful West End debut in Suzi Miller’s play about sexual assault and the legal system,” said the Guardian’s Arifa Akbar. The Evening Standard’s Nick Curtis wrote, “We all wanted to know if she’s as good live on stage as she is on screen. And the answer is no: she’s better.”

“Comer evolves the character as the play goes on, twisting Tessa’s charismatic confidence into traumatised, fidgety panic-duality expressed in the publicity poster, which overlays an image of a self-satisfied lawyer-mode Comer into one of her letting out an anguished scream… and she plays all the other supporting roles… we watch her slip between the prim prosperity and rounded vowels of Tessa’s Cambridge Professors to the crotch-scratching arrogance of policemen and Elton-boy drawl of her peers among many others,” wrote Yasmin Omar in her Curzon Cinemas review for the NT Live screening of the production in movie theatres.
Jodie will make her Broadway debut at the Schubert Theatre later this year when the production transfers to New York.

She kindly signed my sketch at the Pinter stage door after her final performance on 18 June where hundreds of fans gathered, fifteen deep.

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Drawing: LIfe of Pi, The Tiger 7

Autographed drawing of the Tiger Puppet from Life of Pi on West End, London

The Covid pandemic delayed the West End transfer of the spectacular stage adaptation of Yann Martel’s best-selling Booker Prize-winning novel, the LIFE OF PI from the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield to London’s Wyndham’s Theatre. It finally opened last December, winning five Olivier Awards including Best New Play…. and creating London theatrical history when the six puppeteers and voice artist of the tiger – Fred Davis (Head), Daisy Franks (Heart), Romina Hytten (Heart), Tom Larkin (Head), Habib Nasib Nader (Voice),Tom Stacy (Hind) and Scarlet Wilderink (Heart) – won Best Supporting Actor.

A sixteen-year-old Indian boy named Pi is cast adrift on a lifeboat in the middle of the Pacific Ocean for 227 days with a hyena, a zebra, an orangutang and a Royal Bengal Tiger called Richard Parker. The puppet designers and movement directors, Finn Caldwell and Nick Barnes also won Oliviers. In her WhatsOnStage review, Sarah Crompton wrote,”If you want theatrical magic, LIFE OF PI is the show for you. The tiger is a magnificent creation whose every movement and sound make you believe you are in the presence of a dangerous, prowling beast.”

“It’s a landmark moment in puppetry… we’re hoping it opens the door for more puppets in central roles in the future”, said Fred after their deserved win.

I left a quick sketch of Richard Parker along with a congratulatory card at the Wyndham’s stage door, which all of the ‘Tiger 7’ kindly signed and returned for me, along with two pieces of special original artwork from Romina and Payal Misty, who plays Pi’s sister Rani. They also gave me a programme, signed by all the cast. Big thanks!

Artwork and thank you notes from Life of Pi Puppeteers

Drawing: Neil Armstrong

Drawing of astronaut Neil Armstrong with Autograph

Fifty-three years ago today, on 20 July 1969, the commander of the Apollo 11 mission,
Neil Armstrong became the first human to walk on the moon. Appropriately, I was eleven at the time and the event consumed most of my time… yes I admit it, I had an Apollo addiction. I’m pretty sure I contributed significantly to the NZ and US postal service profits that year with all my NASA correspondence.

I was one of an estimated 650 million people back on earth, who tuned into their TV sets to watch the American astronaut’s eerie image as he placed his left foot on the lunar surface in Sea of Tranquility, uttering the now famous epigram, “That’s one small step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind.” Debate still continues regarding the existence of the ‘a’ or the lack of it. The syllable may have been dropped due to static or was inaudible due to the limitations of the communication technology at the time. The man himself hoped that history would grant him some leeway. The syllable was intended even if it was not said. NASA’s official transcript continues to show the ‘a’ in parentheses. It was a statement Neil came up with himself. He had too many other things to think about during the descent so it came to him after the landing.

After studying aeronautical engineering at Purdue University, under a Naval scholarship, Neil saw action in the Korean War, flying 78 missions, decorated with four medals and two gold stars. After his military service, he returned to University to complete his degrees, before becoming an experimental research test pilot, flying the hypersonic rocket-powered aircraft X-15 seven times. Oh and yes, didn’t see this one coming; he actually co-directed two musicals while at varsity as part of an all-student revue! He joined the NASA Astronaut Corps in 1962, becoming the commander pilot of Gemini 8 in 1966 with pilot Dave Scott.

The primary objective of the Apollo 11 mission was to complete a national goal set by President John F. Kennedy on 25 May 1961, to put a man on the moon before the decade was out. Launched from Cape Kennedy on 16 July 1969 on the mighty Saturn V – a 363-foot rocket with 7.5 million pounds of thrust – Neil was joined by the Command Module (Columbia) pilot Michael Collins and Lunar Module (Eagle) pilot Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin.

Neil passed away on 25 August 2012 aged 82.

He kindly signed for me in the mid-1980’s after I wrote to him at his home, before he stopped some years later due to the huge volume of requests.

The Chicane ‘lasting impression’ toon marked the 50th Anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission in 2019.

Lasting Impression First Moon Landing footprint illustration

Drawing: David McCallum

Autographed Drawing of actor David McCallum

Television transmission began in New Zealand in the early 1960s, coinciding with my formative years, influenced by many memorable programmes, including my favourite THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E with Robert Vaughn as the suave spy Napoleon Solo and his enigmatic partner, Russian Illya Kuryakin played by the Scottish-born David McCallum.

David’s father was the lead violinist for the London Philharmonic and his mother was a cellist so everything pointed to a musical career for their son and his favourite instrument, the oboe. A short stint at the Royal Academy of Music was replaced with the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, igniting a distinguished film, TV and stage career spanning over seven decades beginning with voice work for the BBC Radio in 1947.

He became a household name as the mysterious Illya Kuryakin, a character originally intended as a peripheral role but his popularity and the on-screen chemistry with Robert persuaded the producers to elevate David to co-star status. He received more fan mail than any other actor in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s history, including MGM stars Clark Gable and Ellis Presley with two Primetime Emmy nominations and a Golden Globe nod. He subsequently featured in COLDITZ (1972-74) and SAPPHIRE & STEELE (1978-1982) alongside Joanna Lumley before taking on the role of Donald ‘Ducky’ Mallard, the chief Medical Examiner in the American police procedural series NCIS since 2003. He is the only original cast member left, appearing briefly for season 19 last month.

David returned to his musical roots, recording four albums for Capitol Records in the 1960’s. In 2016 he published a crime novel ONCE A CROOKED MAN which centres on a young actor who foils a murder.

During the pandemic lockdowns I had the time to catch up on many of THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E episodes and drawing this quick portrait sketch of David, which I sent it to him at his New York home. He returned it, signed which I will treasure.

Drawing: Ang Lee

Autographed Drawing of director Ang Lee

One of the most accomplished and popular contemporary filmmakers, Taiwanese-American director Ang Lee was ranked 27th in the Guardian’s top 40 directors and 41st in a list of greatest directors of all time in a 2007 poll conducted by Total Film magazine. Ang is also one of the nicest people in the business. I have a had the privilege of meeting him on a number of occasions over the past few years.

His 15 feature films have received a truck load of accolades, including 38 Oscar nominations (four for Best Picture) with 12 wins, 49 BAFTA nominations for 24 wins and 23 Golden Globe nominations for nine wins. Personally he has received five Academy Award nominations, winning two for Best Director for LIFE OF PI in 2013 and BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN in 2006. He has won five BAFTAS, including Best Film for SENSE AND SENSIBILITY (1995) and the Fellowship in 2020 for his Outstanding Contributions to British Cinema. He has also been the recipient of a number of honours and decorations, including a Knight of the French Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (2012) and the Legion of Honor (2021) from the French Government in the same year he received the Presidential Culture Award from Taiman’s president Thai-Ing-wen.

I sent this sketch to Ang to his home in New York State last year with a signing request and received a very nice reply from his wife Jane, thanking me for my letter and informing me that Ang was working in New Zealand and due to the covid restrictions was going to be there for some time, but as soon as he returned home she would make sure he signed and returned it, which is exactly what happened.

Drawing: Stephen Sondheim’s Old Friends tribute concert 3 May 2022

Drawing of Stephen Sondheim signed by Sir Cameron Mackintosh, Maria Friedman, Dame Judy Dench, Petula Clark, Julia McKenzie, Michael Ball, Bernadette Peters, Sian Philips, Bonnie Langford, Janie Dee, Gary Wilmot, Clive Rowe, Charlie Stemp, Michael Xavier, Jon Robyns, Damien Lewis, Rob Brydon, Haydn Gwynn and Julian Ovenden, from the Stephen Sonheim Old Friends Tribute Concert, London

British producer and theatre impresario, Sir Cameron Mackintosh invited many of the late Stephen Sondheim’s old friends to join him in celebrating the great composer’s extraordinary talents and legacy at the West End theatre named after him. Considered one of the most influential figures in twentieth-century musical theatre, Stephen passed away at his home in Roxbury, Connecticut last November at the age of 91, before he was able to attend the official naming ceremony of the Shaftesbury Avenue theatre.

The tribute concert STEPHEN SONDHEIM’S OLD FRIENDS (from a number in 1981’s MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG) on 3 May, directed by Maria Friedman was also simulcast at the nearby Prince Edward Theatre, due to ticket demand. All proceeds went to the Stephen Sondheim Foundation. In his five star review for the Guardian, Mark Lawson wrote, “A glorious all-star memorial service… Stephen Sondheim was so vast a talent that London required two theatres to remember him… each of the (41) tunes a eulogy.”

While I wasn’t unable to get (or indeed fit) every artist, I did manage 19 from the glittering line-up, who respectfully signed around the pencil portrait of the great man; Sir Cameron Mackintosh, Maria Friedman, Dame Judy Dench, Petula Clark, Julia McKenzie, Michael Ball, Bernadette Peters, Sian Philips, Bonnie Langford, Janie Dee, Gary Wilmot, Clive Rowe, Charlie Stemp, Michael Xavier, Jon Robyns, Damien Lewis, Rob Brydon, Haydn Gwynn and Julian Ovenden.

Drawing: Liza Sadovy as Fraulein Schneider in CABARET

Autographed drawing of Liza Sadovy in Cabaret at the Playhouse Theatre on London's West End

British actress Liza Sadovy won the Olivier Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role in a Musical for her performance as the amiable landlady Fraulein Schneider in Rebecca Frecknall’s sensational revival of CABARET at the Playhouse Theatre. The production made history, winning all four Musical acting categories with leads Eddie Redmayne and Jessie Buckley and fellow supporting actor and on-stage love interest Elliot Levey also collecting their respective awards at this month’s Royal Albert Hall ceremony.

“Sadovy is especially excellent, bringing both sweetness and steeliness to her depiction of a world- weary woman,” wrote Miriam Gibson in her LondonBoxOffice review. Liza and Elliot (as the Jewish shopkeeper Herr Schultz) are retirement-age lovers as the Nazi party is taking over the streets of Berlin in the 1930’s. They ‘swoon over a pineapple until their relationship is derailed by anti-Semitism.’ In Variety, David Benedict said, “The utter sincerity of the detailing of their relationship is so magnetic that even the pineapple song ‘It Couldn’t Please Me More’ here makes rare emotional sense,”

Liza’s career has seen her perform on both sides of the Atlantic. Her stage appearances include WICKED in the original London production as the replacement Madame Morrible, Catherine De Brie in LA BETE on both Broadway and the West End, FIDDLER ON THE ROOF, OLIVER!, PYGMALION and RICHARD II to name a few. She has also appeared in Opera productions such as THE MARRIAGE OF FIGARO, LA TRAVIATA and DON GIOVANNI. In film and TV she lists Tim Burton’s SWEENY TODD:THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET with Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter, MIDSOMER MURDERS, EASTENDERS and VERA amongst her credits.

Liza signed this sketch for me on her final day at the Playhouse, before immediately starting rehearsals for Rodger and Hammerstein’s OKLAHOMA!, where the Tony Award- winning production transfers to London’s Young Vic, after its acclaimed Broadway run and US tour. It opens this week with Liza playing the town’s fun-loving caretaker Aunt Eller.

Drawing: Elliot Levey as Herr Schultz in CABARET

Autographed drawing of Elliot Levey in Cabaret at London's Playhouse Theatre on West End

The London revival of the Kander and Ebb classic musical CABARET at the Playhouse Theatre was nominated for 11 Olivier Awards, winning seven, including Best Actor in a Supporting Role in a Musical for Elliot Levey for his portrayal of the kindly old Jewish fruit seller, Herr Schultz in Berlin during the Weimar-era. After reading philosophy at Oxford University, Elliot has become a popular regular on the British stage, including the National Theatre’s 2004 revival of HIS DARK MATTERS, as Brutus in CORIOLANUS with Mark Gatiss and Tom Hiddleston at the Donmar Warehouse in 2013 and in the role of Don John in MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING alongside David Tennant and Catherine Tate at Wyndham’s in 2011. His film work includes Kenneth Branagh’s remake of MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS, THE LADY IN THE VAN, THE QUEEN, PHILOMENIA and on the small screen, PEAKY BLINDERS.

“Lovely work from Elliot Levey and Liza Sadovy as the landlady Fraulein Schneider… the fate of their sweet, courtly romance in the face of Nazi disapproval drives events in the story,” wrote Andrzej Lukowski in his TimeOut review. Variety critic David Benedict said, “Any scrap of sentimentality in the writing is banished by the wonderfully held tension between the two actors, who use expert comic timing to walk a tentative tightrope between hope and heartbreak.”

Elliot signed this drawing I did of him prior to a Saturday matinee at the Playhouse Theatre stage door the day before he collected his Olivier.

Drawing: Hiran Abeysekera in the Life Of Pi

Autographed drawing of Hiran Abeysekera in the Life Of Pi on West End

Lolita Chakrabarti’s puppet-powered adaption of Yann Martel’s much-loved Booker Prize winning novel THE LIFE OF PI opened in Sheffield’s Crucible theatre in 2019 to a rapturous reception, but its West End transfer was severely delayed due to the pandemic. It was worth the wait. When the breathtaking production, directed by Max Webster, finally opened at Wyndham’s Theatre last November, it was an instant smash hit, ‘A Theatrical Phenomenon’ (The Telegraph), winning five Olivier Awards at last weekend’s Royal Albert Hall ceremony, including Best New Play.

“It is one of the most visually stunning theatre shows I have ever seen,” wrote Andrzej Lukowski in his TimeOut review. “Long after the curtain falls LIFE OF PI will make you believe in the power of theatre,” said The Times.

A father’s decision to relocate his ramshackled family zoo in the South Indian coastal town of Pondicherry to Canada begins an epic 227-day journey of hope and endurance. After the cargo ship sinks in the middle of the vast Pacific Ocean there are five survivors on a lifeboat; a hyena, a zebra, an orangutang, a Royal Bengal Tiger named Richard Parker and the extraordinary story’s protagonist and zookeeper’s son, sixteen-year-old Piscine Molitor ‘Pi’ Patel (named after a swimming pool in Paris), played by a very youthful and ebullient 35 year-old RADA graduate Hiran Abeysekera, deservedly winning the Olivier for Best Actor.

During the delay and lockdowns, Hiran recalled thinking, “like many creative people, he questioned the importance of his job, compared to nurses and other frontline workers, but then people kept taking about all the things that they were watching on their laptops and how TV and entertainment were a huge part of people’s mental health.” It reassured him.

Hiran’s personal theatrical journey began after his memorable portrayal of Alan Strang in the 2007 British Council’s Sri Lankan production of Peter Shaffer’s EQUUS in his hometown of Columbo, which caught the attention of theatre director Willi Richards, who flew him to the UK to audition for various drama schools, winning a scholarship at the prestigious Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. And so the 23 year-old began a new life in London.

Sri Lankan Sunday Times journalist interviewed Hiran in 2008. He wrote, “Some people make an instant impression on you. Some others leave you hoping you would meet them again. This young man falls into both categories.” I certainly agree, meeting Hiran at the stage door prior to a Sunday matinee last month, where he kindly signed my sketch.

Drawing: Iga Swiatek

Autographed drawing of tennis player Iga Swiatek

The 2020 French Open was postponed from May until the end of September and early October due to the restrictions imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic. Paris in Autumn is a lot different to Paris in the Spring. The famous red clay at the Stade Roland Garros was damper, the temperature colder and the balls heavier with a lower bounce – ideal conditions for Polish teenager Iga Swiatek to excel and dominate the women’s singles, winning her maiden WTA and first Grand Slam singles title, easily defeating Sofia Kenin from the US in straight sets in the final. Her all-court play with a crushing forehand, ability to defend stoutly, ruthless determination and her quick transition onto attack were all characteristics that contributed to her victory.

Eighteen months later, the 20 year-old is now world No 1, after winning the Miami Open final last weekend and the shock retirement of the former top ranked player, Aussie Ash Barty. After winning back-to-back titles at Doha and Indian Wells Iga has now won her past six finals, extending her winning streak to 17 matches. She entered the top 10 last May after winning the Italian Open and any thoughts of becoming the world’s best player was a possibility “in a few years”. It was obviously accelerated by Ash’s decision, but given her form this year, including reaching the semifinals at the Australian Open, she may have very well taken the number one spot anyway.

I drew this quick sketch of Iga, after watching her French Open triumph and sent it to her via the Polish Tennis Federation. It came back signed and dedicated within a fortnight.