Double-Olivier Award Winner, Samantha Spiro has joined the Wilde side in the West End, as Dominic Dromgoole’s year-long Oscar Wilde season continues at the Vaudeville Theatre with the Kathy Burke helmed LADY WINDERMERE’S FAN. Samantha is Mrs Erlynne, the ‘other woman’ suspected of having an affair with Lady Windermere’s husband, with a secret twist revealed later in the play. Lyn Gardner wrote in her Guardian review, “Dripping charm and diamonds, Spiro’s superb as a scarlet woman doing unarmed combat with Victorian moralism.”
Samantha happily signed my drawing at the stage door a few weeks ago between Saturday performances.
English actor, writer and comedian Kevin Bishop plays the ‘dashingly funny’ (The Times) Lord Darlington in Kathy Burke’s ‘vividly fresh’ revival of Oscar Wilde’s LADY WINDERMERE’S FAN at London’s Vaudeville Theatre.
Kevin is well known to small screen fans for Channel 4’s comedy sketch series THE KEVIN BISHOP SHOW, which he co-wrote with Lee Hupfield and the BBC’s remake of the classic comedy PORRIDGE. His recent London stage appearances include the one-man show FULLY COMMITTED at the Menier Chocolate Factory in which he played 40 characters and ONCE IN A LIFETIME opposite Harry Enfield at the Young Vic.
Playing Lord Darlington gives Kevin a chance to work with two of his comedy heroes, Kathy Burke and Jennifer Saunders and deliver some of Wilde’s memorable lines, such as “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.” I met Kevin as he was about to take his dog for a walk between shows on Saturday. I held the leash and he took my sharpie and signed my drawing.
Twenty-two year old Czech snowboarder and alpine skier Ester Ledecka made history at this year’s Winter Olympics in Pyongyang, South Korea, becoming the first person to not only compete in snowboarding and skiing, but to win titles on two different types of equipment at the same Olympics. Known for her snowboarding prowess, the double World Champion was favoured to win the gold in the Parallel Giant Slalom and duly did so.
However, with a ranking of 49 in the Super-G Alpine Ski event and not having medalled in any international ski event previously, expectations were less ambitious. But her 21.11 second run was enough to sneak past defending champion Anna Veith from Austria by 0.01 seconds to stun the skiing world and win her second gold medal in her Olympic debut.
I quickly drew this montage and sent it to her when she returned to a hero’s welcome in her home town of Prague after the Olympics and it came back signed yesterday, along with an info card, also signed.
Another one of my favourite writers is British novelist, playwright and screenwriter Michael Frayn. Known for his plays such as DONKEYS’YEARS, NOISES OFF, (both Olivier Award winners), COPENHAGEN (Tony Award) and DEMOCRACY, his novels HEADLONG
(shortlisted for the 1999 Booker Prize) and SPIES (Commonwealth Writers Prize), Michael has also written screenplays, including CLOCKWISE with John Cleese.
After two years National Service, during which he learnt Russian, Michael read Moral Sciences (Philosophy) at Emmanuel College Cambridge, graduating in 1957. He became a reporter and columnist for The Guardian and The Observer newspapers and began writing plays and novels. He is also considered one of Britain’s finest translators of renowned Russian writer Anton Chekov’s work, THE SEAGULL, UNCLE VANYA and THE CHERRY ORCHARD to name a few.
When I sent Michael this sketch, I mistakenly Knighted him. He returned it, signed with an accompanying note, thanking me and saying it was “better than the original” then correcting my error, “I’m not a sir, though.” I quickly erased the evidence on my not sir Michael Frayn portrait. An even quicker and belated Google search informed me he had turned down a knighthood in 2003, stating that he liked the name ‘Michael Frayn… it’s a nice little name to run around with. I’ve spent 70 years getting used to it and I don’t want to change it now.’ It seems to be a common thing with writers – Alan Bennett, Harold Pinter, George Bernard Shaw, E.M.Forster and Rudyard Kipling – not wanting extra letters in their names.
Tom Kerridge doesn’t think of himself as a ‘Michelin-star kind of guy,’ but he is… well he has two of them, so technically he’s a Michelin-stars kinda guy. The very popular TV chef, who describes himself as ‘big, bald and easily distracted,’ and his sculptor wife Beth opened their gastropub ‘The Hand & Flowers’ in the Buckinghamshire town of Marlow on the river Thames thirty miles west of London in 2005. Within a year it had won its first Michelin, followed by a second, becoming the first pub to achieve the accolade.
Tom’s philosophy is based on the premises that food brings people together. His French, British fusion dishes are ‘sophisticated yet familar’. ‘I don’t go in for that ‘temple of gastronomy’ thing,” he says, “I just want people to have a nice time.” His signature dish is a take on the traditional hog roast, cooking pork belly in a Bain-Marie, wrapped in skin and roasted, accompanied by the stuffed pig’s trotters. Yum.
I sent this sketch to The Hand & Flowers for Tom to sign, which he did and returned immediately. Star.
Currently back on the London boards in Bryony Lavery’s psychological thriller FROZEN at the Theatre Royal Haymarket, Suranne Jones plays Nancy, a grieving mother who faces her child’s killer. It’s a performance that Michael Billington described as ‘riveting’ in his four-star review for The Guardian.
Suranne is no stranger to critical acclaim, mostly from her TV appearances. After her prominent role as Karen McDonald in the iconic British soap, CORONATION STREET (2000-2004), her breakthrough came as convicted killer Ruth Slater in the mini-series UNFORGIVEN in 2009, followed by five years as detective Rachel Bailey in SCOTT & BAILEY then GP Gemma Foster in DOCTOR FOSTER, which won her a TV BAFTA and two National Television Awards.
Her last two stage appearances received equal acclaim, playing single mum Sandra in the comedy BEAUTIFUL THING at the Arts Theatre in the West End and the epoch-hopping title role in Sarah Ruhl’s adaption of Virginia Woolf’s novel ORLANDO at Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre.
Arriving at the Theatre Royal stage door on a bitterly cold Saturday afternoon she happily stopped and chatted to the waiting few, commenting on the irony of the play’s title and the chilly climate and signing autographs, including this montage sketch.
After a 20 year wait, Jennifer Saunders has returned to the West End, this time as the imposing Duchess of Berwick in Kathy Burke’s production of Oscar Wilde’s LADY WINDERMERE’S FAN at the Vaudeville Theatre.
One of the most influential women in British television comedy, Jennifer kept to prominence as Vyvyan in THE YOUNG ONES and, with her comedy partner Dawn French, launched the sketch show FRENCH AND SAUNDERS in 1987, which became staple BBC viewing through to 2007. Let’s not forget the champagne-quaffing PR Edina Monsoon opposite Joanna Lumley in ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS, among a raft of other memorable characters and appearances, collecting a truck-load of accolades along the way.
Her current stage performance has garnered equal plaudits, The Guardian’s Lyn Gardner calling her portrayal, “a monstrous star turn,” as “A Duchess with a walking stick like a taser and a hat like a homunculus.”
The two things Jennifer and I have in common is our age and being at the same stage door at the same time after Saturday’s matinee, where I asked her to sign this sketch. “Well done you,” she said, which is always a good sign.
Nina Sosanya has made a welcome return to the London stage, playing Agnatha, a clinical psychiatrist in the West End revival of Bryon Lavery’s psychological thriller FROZEN, which opened last month for a limited run at the Theatre Royal Haymarket.
The dark and compelling 1998 three-hander with Suzanne Jones and Jason Watkins is not for the faint-hearted, dealing with the abduction and murder of a ten-year old girl. Nina’s character looks at the difference between crimes of evil and crimes of illness. This is a rehearsal sketch that Nina kindly signed for me when she arrived for last Saturday’s matinee.
Irish actor Rory Keenan joined the cast after Richard Eyre’s 2016 production of Eugene O’Neill’s LONG DAY’S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT after it transferred to the West End last month. He plays Jamie, one of the Tyrone’s two son’s opposite Jeremy Irons and Lesley Manville in the 1945 study of the hellish damage a sick person can wreck on a family.
This is Rory’s second play under Sir Richard’s direction, having played the title role in LIOLA at the National. He won Best Supporting Actor at the Irish Times Theatre awards for his portrayal of Ronan in THE LAST DAYS OF THE CELTIC TIGER at Dublin’s Olympia Theatre in 2009. His extensive screen work includes PEAKY BLINDERS and the BIRDSONG mini series. In her Arts Desk review for JOURNEY, Ismene Brown wrote, “Rory Keenan’s terrific, (as the) cynical Jamie… roughens and undersells himself to very touching effect.”
I caught up with the likeable and friendly Rory at the Wyndham’s stage door on a bitterly cold lunchtime prior to last Saturday’s matinee and he managed to get the sharpie to work on my sketch.
Kilkenny-born actress Jessica Regan reprised her role as Catherine, the Irish housemaid in Richard Eyre’s revival of Eugene O’Neill’s Pulitzer Prize-winning family drama, LONG DAY’S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT which premiere at the Bristol old Vic in 2016 before transferring to london’s Wyndham’s Theatre. It’s also Broadway-bound after it’s April West End conclusion.
Jessica will be familiar to soap fans, appearing in EASTENDERS and more recently as regular Niamh Donoghue in the BBC’s DOCTORS, for which she won the Best Newcomer at the British Soap Awards.
The Guardian’s Michael Billington wrote that Jessica’s Catherine was a “welcome relief in a play that, if well done, as it is here, leaves you emotionally pulverised.” Allison Vale in the British Theatre Guide said Jessica added “moments of real sparkle.”
It was great to meet her at the stage door after the matinee a couple of Saturdays ago where she signed my sketch.