Drawing: Nigel Slater

Autographed drawing of Chef Nigel Slater

I finally got to meet another culinary hero of mine last week. Nigel Slater was at The Other Palace theatre for the West End premiere of the sage adaption of TOAST, the comedy-drama, based on his best-selling , award-winning autobiography ‘Toast: The Story of a Boy’s Hunger.’ The extraordinary story of a childhood revealed through food was also made into a successful film, featuring Helena Bonham Carter in 2010.

One of Britain’s foremost gastronomic writers, Nigel is famous for his stripped-back recipes, which show how easy it is to make delicious meals from just a few high-quality ingredients. The play was commissioned in 2018 by The Lowry in Manchester, where it had a sell-out run at the Week 53 Festival. Written by Henry Filoux-Bennett, the production moved to the Edinburgh Fringe, embarking on a UK National tour, before its London transfer.

I met Nigel at the theatre, where he very kindly signed my sketch, before the press night performance. I’ve always admired Nigel’s handwriting, which features in many of his TV shows, so was able to satisfy both culinary and calligraphic obsessions. I later discovered, not only was it his birthday, (one day before mine) but we are the same age, so a belated many happy returns.

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The 2019 Laurence Olivier Awards – a selection of six winners

The 2019 Laurence Olivier Awards, recognising excellence in London theatre was held last Sunday at the Royal Albert Hall. Here’s a 4B pencil tribute to a selection of six winners who all signed their respective sketches over the past year.

Sharon D. Clarke, Best Actress in a Musical for her title role in CAROLINE, OR CHANGE at the Playhouse Theatre, signed in person at the theatre last December.

Autographed drawing of Sharon D Clarke in Caroline, Or Change at the Playhouse Theatre on London's West End

Patti LuPone, Best Actress in a Supporting Role in a Musical for her portrayal of Joanne in Stephen Sondheim’s COMPANY at the Gielgud Theatre, signed at the stage door in October last year.

Autographed drawing of actress Patti LuPone

Patsy Ferran, Best Actress for SUMMER AND SMOKE, signed at the Duke of York’s Theatre on 18 December 2018, following a West End transfer after a sold-out run at the Almeida Theatre.

Autographed drawing of Patsy Ferran and Matthew Needham in Summer and Smoke at the Duke of York's Theatre on London's West End

Kyle Soller, Best Actor for his role as Eric Glass in the Young Vic’s two-part epic, THE INHERITANCE at the Noel Coward Theatre, signed at the stage door in January this year.

Autographed drawing of Kyle SOller and Andrew Burnap in The Inheritance at the Noel Coward Theatre on London's West End

Kobna Holbrook-Smith, Best Actor in a Musical for his role as Ike Turner, in TINA,THE MUSICAL, signed at the Aldwych Theatre’s stage door late last year.

Autographed drawing of Kobna Holdbrook-Smith in Tina The Musical at the Aldwych Theatre on London's West End

Chris Walley, Best Actor in a Supporting Role for playing the teenager Davey in THE LIEUTENANT OF INISHMORE, also signed at the Noel Coward stage door last summer.

Autographed drawing of Chris Walley in The Lieutenant of Inishmore at the Noel Coward Theatre on London's West End

Drawing: David Suchet, Brendan Coyle, Adrian Lukis and Sara Stewart in The Price

Autographed drawing of David Suchet, Brendan Coyle, Adrian Luke's and Sara Stewart in The Price at Wyndham's Theatre in London's West End

Arthur Miller’s final masterpiece, THE PRICE premiered on Broadway at the Morosco Theatre in the winter of 1968. The play about family dynamics, the price of furniture and the price of one’s decisions has had a number of revivals, including Jonathan Church’s ‘rich and powerful’ 50th anniversary production at the Theatre Royal Bath last summer, which transferred to the Wyndham’s Theatre in London’s West End this February with the same cast.

Two estranged brothers meet for the first time in sixteen years to sell the family furniture stored in a New York attic. Victor Franz (Brendan Coyle), a New York cop, nearing retirement and his brother Walter (Adrian Lukis), a successful surgeon learn the cost of dividing the family spoils. They are joined by Victor’s alcohol-dependent wife Esther (Sara Stewart) and a silver-tongued 89 year-old furniture dealer, Gregory Solomon (David Suchet) who is asked to access and bid for the family heirlooms. The Guardian’s Michael Billington summed up the critical response by simply saying it is a “superbly acted production.”

Special mention has been made of David’s tragicomic tour de force, with Dominic Maxwell writing in his review for the Times, that the show is “blessed by one truly great star turn. David Suchet has an almost indecent amount of fun as Gregory Solomon”.  Both David and Adrian have been nominated for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor Olivier Awards respectively, at this weekend’s ceremony.

Adrian and Sara signed my montage sketch for me in person at the stage door prior to Saturday’s matinee a couple of weeks ago, but I missed David and Brendan, so left it for them at the theatre. It was returned TTM (Through The Mail) as we say in the collecting business, graphed and dedicated.

Drawing: Dario Cecchini

Autographed drawing of Chef Dario Cecchini

One of life’s little pleasures is David Gelb’s Netflix series, CHEF’S TABLE. It’s part of my overall vice for watching cooking shows, replacing a gap in my vocational achievements. The latest series was released this February with four episodes. My favourite was about Dario Cecchini, the charismatic Tuscan butcher and celebrity showman. In the small village of Panzano in the Chianti region off Italy, where Dario grew up, his father ran the local butcher shop, which had been in the family for eight generations, spanning 250 years. Dario, however did not want to be a butcher. He wanted to be a vet. After his mother passed away from cancer, Dario moved to Pisa to study veterinarian science, but he had to cut his studies short and return home to look after his ailing father, who also died leaving Dario no option but to take over the family business.

He said, “I won’t be the one to save the animal, I will be the one who kills the animal.” Even though he grew up in a butcher’s family he knew nothing of the it. He contacted Orlando, his father’s meat adviser and confidente, who took him to many farms and introduced Dario in his philosophy, “When an animal is born, we must try to give it the best life and when the animal dies by our hand we must respect the gift of the animal.”

Dario customers just wanted steaks and fillets, he but wanted to use all the animal, including the ‘less noble’ parts, as he puts it, from ‘nose-to-tail.’ All parts of the animal are useful if butchered and cooked in the appropriate way. Dario says it’s a combination of knowledge and a consciousness respect for the animal. In order to persuade his customers of this, he starting cooking to show how this could be done, establishing ‘Ristorante Soloccia’ across the street from his shop “I am not a cook. I am a butcher who cooks.”

He relies on instinct and keeping things simple and a glass of red wine that helps the process. It became such a huge success that a second ‘meat-centric’ restaurant Officina Della Bistecca was opened next door. The boy who wanted to be a vet had become the most famous butcher in the world.

Combining another vice, the need to scribble, I did this quick sketch and sent it to Dario to sign, which he did, appropriately in a big red marker, cleverly adapting the philosophical phrase ‘carpe diem’ to ‘carne (meat) diem’.

Drawing: Sir Ranulph Fiennes

Autographed drawing of Sir Ranulph Fiennes

Described by the Guinness Book of World Records as ‘the world’s greatest living explorer’, Sir Ranulph Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes 3rd Baronet, more commonly known as Ranulph ‘Ran’ Fiennes celebrated his 75th birthday at the beginning of this month, being interviewed by fellow adventurer and Chief Scout Bear Grylls at London’s Royal Festival Hall, discussing the new edition of his best-selling autobiography
‘Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know’.

It featuring unparalleled stories that mark an unmatched career, including becoming the first person to visit both South and North Poles by surface means, circumnavigating the world on its polar axis using surface transport only and the first person to completely cross Antartica on foot.

In 2003, four months after a heart attack and a double by pass operation, Sir Ranulph completed seven marathons in seven days on seven continents as part of the Land Rover Challenge for the British Heart Foundation. Six years later, at the age of sixty-five he became first person to reach the summit of Mt Everest and cross both polar ice-caps. In 1993 he was recognised by the Queen with the Officer of the Order of the British Empire decoration for “human endeavour and for charitable services.” His exhibitions have raised £14 million for good causes, including the Marie Curie Cancer Care Delivering Choice Programme.

I had hoped to meet Sir Ranulph at the Royal Festival Hall event, but was unable to make it, so sent him this sketch through the mail, which he kindly signed and returned.

Drawing: Gemma Barnett in A Hundred Words For Snow

Autographed drawing of Gemma Barnett in A Hundred Words For Snow at the Trafalgar Studios on London's West End

Tatty Hennessy’s ‘outrageously funny and deeply moving’ coming-of-age tale… with polar bears, A HUNDRED WORDS FOR SNOW has transferred to London’s West End with a flurry of excellent reviews and accolades after successful appearances at The Vaults and the Arcola Theatre last year.

Directed by Lucy Jane Atkinson, the one hour, one person play, which mixes polar exploration with teenage awkwardness will run in the Trafalgar Studio 2 until the end of the month. Oxford school of Drama graduate Gemma Barnett plays Rory – short for Aurora – a young woman determined to scatter her dad’s ashes at the North Pole. It was a trip they had planned before he suddenly died in an accident, one last expedition, which the Guardian’s Michael Billington called an “extraordinary story. “The play explores the difficulties and desires of growing up and searching the unknown in a melting world, covering the themes of climate change, feminism and self-discovery.”

As Tatty points out, it’s very relevant, given the UN’s latest stark and startling Climate Chang report. “How traumatic, isolating and overwhelming it must be to lose someone you love and to lose them at 15, to be grieving during puberty,” said Gemma in an interview for London Theatre Direct.

I caught up with Gemma last Saturday at the stage door after her matinee performance, described by James FitzGerald in his WhatsOnStage review as “impassioned and intoxicating,” where she signed my sketch.

Drawing: Dave Myers and Si King aka the Hairy Bikers

Autographed drawing of Si King and Dave Myers The Hairy Bikers

My ritual Sunday diet of TV cuisine shows always includes an ample helping of the UK’s most popular cooking duo, Dave Myers and Si King, aka the Hairy Bikers. The exuberant, down-to-earth chefs have had a string of hit television shows over the past twenty years, involving a mixture of cooking and travelogue, creating their own fresh take on culinary classics.

They have now taken to the road on a nationwide tour. AN EVENING WITH THE HAIRY BIKERS is described as an “epic night of cooking and conversation’. The pair rocked up to the iconic London Palladium on Saturday for their only gig in the capital. Luckily I noticed them from my vantage point across the road where I was watching a Six Nations rugby match and partaking of the local hospitality. I quickly raced across to catch them.

After eventually sorting a car park outside the stage door and posing for the obligatory selfies with a few passers-by I asked them to sign my sketch. “Is that a kiwi accent?” asked Si. “Guilty,” I said. That’s why I often put a little stick-note on the drawing ‘To Mark’ to avoid getting ‘Mack’ or ‘Mike’ or some other deviation. But he was conversant with the Antipodean tongue and inscribed correctly.

Drawing: Isabella Rossellini

Autographed drawing of actress Isabella Rossellini

Her mother was the three-time Oscar winning Swedish actress Ingrid Bergman and her father the neo-realist master film director Roberto Rossellini. With that parentage and pedigree Isabella Fiorella Elettra Giovanni Rossellini was destined for a cinematic career… and more. She made her movie debut alongside her mother in Vincent Minnelli’s A MATTER OF TIME in 1976.

Isabella’s most memorable role was as lounge singer Dorothy Vallens in David Lynch’s cult classic BLUE VELVET, a role that won her the Best Female Lead Independent Spirit Award. She was also nominated for a Golden Globe, playing Anna Hauptmann in HBO’s TV film about the Lindbergh kidnapping CRIME OF THE CENTURY and an Emmy nomination for her portrayal as Prof. Marina Giannini in the medical drama CHICAGO HOPE.

Fluent in Italian, French and English, Isabella has had several parallel careers including modelling, where she was the face of the French cosmetics giant Lancôme for a long time and now at the age of 66 she is the company’s global brand ambassador. She has also been a journalist for Italian TV and has written and published three books.

Isabella is an avid dog lover and trains puppies for the blind. Last year she bought her one-woman (and her trained dog, Pan) show, LINK LINK to Queen Elizabeth Hall in London’s Southbank Centre. Described as more of a surreal theatrical lecture, exploring what distinguishes humans from animals with a comic twist, covering everything from animal intelligence to the sex lives of whales. She kindly signed my montage sketch at the stage door afterwards.

Drawing: Danny Dyer in The Dumb Waiter

Autographed drawing of Danny Dyer in The Dumb Waiter at the Harold Pinter Theatre on London's West End

A “propa nawty geezer” is how one interviewer described the parts English actor Danny Dyer is famed for, the  generic ‘hard man-with-a-heart’. He returned last month to the West End stage as a killer in Harold Pinter’s THE DUMB WAITER, which was part of the Pinter Seven double bill with A SLIGHT ACHE.

It concluded the PINTER AT THE PINTER season, Jamie Lloyd’s ambitious box-set approach to all of the Nobel Laureate’s 21 one-act plays over the past 21 weeks at the theatre named after him.

THE DUMB WAITER, written in 1957 is set in a basement of a Birmingham restaurant, where two cockney hit men, Gus and Ben are preparing to execute an unknown victim as a dumb waiter (a shelf on pulleys) descends from above with food requests. Danny played Ben alongside Martin Freeman as Gus.

Jamie said that Danny, who had a close friendship with the playwright was one of Harold’s favourite actors and considered him a protégé “There were no airs and graces about Harold,” said Danny, “I learned so much from him that set me up for the rest of my career.”  THE DUMB WAITER is Danny’s fourth Pinter play. He met Harold in 1999, who cast him as the waiter in CELEBRATION at London’s Almeida Theatre, which transferred to New York’s Lincoln Centre in 2001 as part of the Harold Pinter Season. He followed that with the role of Foster in NO MAN’S LAND at the National Theatre and in 2008 as Joey in THE HOMECOMING back at the Almeida.

Danny’s breakthrough came in 1997 in the cult film HUMAN TRAFFIC as the mad raver Moff. He later said in a Guardian interview that it wasn’t much of a transition “That role was me. I was still living it then. It was the only audition where the first question was “Do you take drugs?” I said, “Yes, I love drugs.” They said, ‘Perfect.”  Since 2013 he has played The Queen Victoria pub’s landlord Mick Carter in the BBC TV soap EASTENDERS, winning three National Television Awards.

I left this sketch of Danny as Ben at the stage door on the final day of the PINTER AT THE PINTER season and it came back signed and dedicated with a nice inscription.

Drawing: Ruby Turner

Autographed drawing of singer Ruby Turner

Described as both a ‘national and international treasure’, Jamaican-born British R&B and soul singer, songwriter and actress Ruby Turner returned to the equally legendary Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in London’s Soho earlier this month for a sold-out run. In recognition of her 30 year career the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors presented her with its prestigious Gold Badge for her contribution to British music in 2009. Over the three decades she has released twenty albums, including her 2007 double album ‘Live At Ronnie Scott’s’. Apart from her music, Ruby is also a very accomplished actress, with an impressive list of stage and screen appearances, including A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE, CARMEN JONES, SIMPLY HEAVENLY and FAME in theatre and films LOVE ACTUALLY, JEWEL OF THE NILE and HOTEL BABALYON.

Ruby signed a profile ink portrait I sent to her when she performed at the Auckland Town Hall in New Zealand way back in 1995, which I posted in December 2013. This is my updated 4B pencil sketch, which Ruby kindly signed for me at Ronnie Scott’s on 6 February.