Two of my favourite entertainers – in fact, the world’s favourite entertainers – are the magical and comical duo of Penn and Teller. The American illusionists Penn Jillette and Raymond Teller celebrated 40 years in the business with a five night gig this month at London’s Eventim Apollo.
They have been the resident headliners at the Rio in Las Vegas since 2001, and appear regularly on the small screen, including a show called ‘Bullshit!’. The 2,494th star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame was dedicated to them in April 2013.
The latest West End revival of Noel Coward’s comic play Hay Fever was staged, appropriately, at the Noel Coward Theatre in 2012. A cross between high farce and a comedy of manners, it is set in an English country house in the 1920s and deals with the four eccentric members of the Bliss family, and their outlandish behaviour. “Crisp comic bliss,” one critic wrote.
Frederic Samson Robert Morie Fox, thankfully abbreviated his name to Freddie, played Simon Bliss the son who was superbly resolute in his refusal to grow up. From the famous family of Foxes, Freddie definitely has the acting gene. The Observers Kate Kellaway described Freddie as, “deliciously debonair… a thespian treat, slightly teasing formality with poised charm.” He was certainly all that when he signed this sketch, after a summer evening’s performance in May 2012.
After graduating from the Bristol Old Vic in 2011, Jack Holden landed his dream role as Albert Narracott in the National Theatre’s production of War Horse in 2012. This gripping play about the pain of war on the innocents has been a huge critical and commercial success,with most of the capacity audience rising to their feet nightly as the curtain falls, many of them crying.
Equally gut wrenching is his portrayal of Joe Bonham, a young US solider in World War One in Johhny Got His Gun at the Southwark Playhouse last month. After being hit by a shell Joe wakes up in a hospital bed with no arms, no legs, no eyes, ears, nose or mouth. “He is just a torso and a train of thought.”
He is an active mind trapped and unable to communicate in his living corpse. He articulates his entrapment by bashing out morse code with his head against the bed post. But his anti war exhibit becomes an embarrassment that must be surpressed. The sight of him might scare others away from becoming soldiers.
The sixty minute monologue adapted by Obie-winning Bradley Rand Smith from Dalton Trumbo’s 1938 anti-war novel was directed by David Mercatili. Described as a brutal, intense one man show with an incredibly powerful message about the cruelty of war and the way the military treats those who suffer in its service. The Independent called it “unforgettable… Jack Holden delivers a stunning tour de force”.
Best known for playing the role of Tony in Men Behaving Badly, British actor Neil Morrissey took on one of the all time crims as Fagin, my dears, in the sell-out UK touring production of Lionel Barts classic musical Oliver! He steals the show, leading his gang of young thieves thorugh memorable numbers such as ‘You’ve Got To Pick A Pocket Or Two’.
At 12, Neil was placed under a care order and legally separated from his parents, spending most of his time in a children’s home. He apparently has numerous tattoos. on his left arm is his first name and a blob which was intended to be his initials, but got infected and required an anti-tetanus shot on. A squiggle, meant to be the reversed version of “The Saint” logo is on the other arm. Legend has it that the inkings were done by other boys at the home, who in a sense of camaraderie, seeing he had no tats, offered him a choice – tattoos or a beating. He is quoted as saying he should have taken the other option.
Oh yes, and until recently he was the voice of Bob the Builder. For the last month of its West End run, Neil reunited with fellow Men Behaving Badly star Caroline Quentin, in Noël Coward’s Relative Values at the Pinter in London. It finished last week, but I caught up with Neil after at the stage door. He signed the sketch I did of him and Caroline, then I showed him this one, he said, “Blimey!” which I think is Midlander for Wow! Either way, he signed it. I also told him the result of one of the World Cup Games played earlier, whcih he was about to go and watch the replay of… oops.
This mischievous comedy was performed in The Shed at the National Theatre last month featuring Gemma Chan in its ensemble cast. Written by Chinese-American playwright David Henry Hwang, it starts with his key role in the US Actors Equity Association protests against the casting of Jonathan Pryce as the Eurasian engineer in the Broadway version of Miss Saigon.
Many Asian-Americans and others regarded this as an example of “yellow face” casting – a caucasian actor applying make-up to portray a character of Asian descent.
Its a ‘mockumentary’ about an Asian-American playwright who, after protesting the casting of Price, accidentally casts a white actor as the Asian lead in his own play Face Value believing him to be of mixed race. He discovers that he is 100% white and tries to cover up to protect his reputation as an Asian-American role model.
It is notable that the National Theatre’s Artistic Director, Nicholas Hytner was the director of Miss Saigon. He amusingly programmed Yellow Face to run in the exact month Saigon returned to the West End. Oxford educated Gemma hailed her breakthrough in “colour-blind casting” when she won her first classical role in theatre, playing the war goddess Athena in Our Ajax at the Southwark Playhouse in 2013. The Sherlock and Jack Ryan actress still believes that actors of East Asian descent still don’t get opportunities white actors do. “I have to fight hard to get parts that don’t have something to do with China,” she said in a recent interview.
Neil Morrissey reunited with his men Behaving Badly co-star Caroline Quentin for the first time since the series ended 16 years ago.
He took over from Rory Bremner as the butler Crestwell in Noël Coward’s Relative Valuesrevival for the final month of its run at the Harold Pinter theatre in London.
Caroline was already playing Moxie, a senior maid in the play about the clash between English aristocracy and Hollywood. It’s the same theatre Neil made his stage debut in Kay Mellor’s A Passionate Woman in 1988. I caught up with both of them last week at the Pinter Stage door where they were more than happy to sign the sketch.
Opening night of the West End revival of David Hare’s Olivier Award winning drama Skylight received standing ovation and a galaxy of five star reviews. Directed by the extraordinary Stephen Daldry, it features the equally extraordinary Bill Nighy and Carey Mulligan making her West End debut. Bill appeared in the original National Theatre production’s West End transfer in 1997. Completing the cast is Matthew Beard, making his stage debut having appeared opposite Carey in the 2009 film An Education.
The story: On a bitterly cold London night, school teacher Kyra Hollis receives an unexpected visit from her former lover, Tom Sergeant, a successful and charismatic restauranteur whose wife has recently died. As the evening progresses, the two attempt to rekindle their once passionate relationship only find themselves locked in a dangerous battle of opposing ideologies and mutual desires.
Skylight runs until 23 August at the Wyndham’s Theatre with a National Theatre live broadcast on 17 July.
Inspired by true events, Stephen Sachs new play debates the nature of authenticity. Kathleen plays Maude, a boozy ex-bartender living in a Bakersfield trailer park who picks up what she claims is a Jackson Pollock for five bucks while trawling through a junk shop.
Ian is Lionel, a lecturer in Abstract Expressionism at Princeton University who is asked to verify the painting or declare it a fake. The play goes beyond the painting. It’s a culture clash between a woman desperately seeking validation for her life and a snobbish connoisseur of fine art. Which one is real?
While I was drawing the sketch I was reminded of Kathleen’s infamous line as the uncredited voice of Jessica Rabbit, Roger Rabbit’s flirtatious toon wife in Who Framed Roger Rabbit? In an interview she said it was just fun to do and that line was too good to pass up. Apparently half her autograph requests are to sign Jessica photos.
I met Kathleen and Ian after Wednesday’s (18 June) evening performance at the Duchess Theatre. They both liked the sketch and were happy to sign it. I was tempted to ask Kathleen to write her Jessica line, but maybe I’ll keel that request for another sketch. I think The Graduate would be more appropriate.
Stephen Daldry is one of the greatest contemporary directors for both stage and screen. On the few occasions I have met him, he has always been charming and generous with his time. He’s been spending most of that time recently at London’s Wyndham’s Theatre directing the revival of David Hare’s Skylight.
On screen his four films Billy Elliot (2000), The Hours (2002), The Reader (2008) and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2011) have all been nominated for Best Picture Oscars and his first three films garnered him Best Director nods.
His stage credits include Billy Elliot, The Musical, An Inspector Calls, Machinal and this year’s sell out at the Gielgud, The Audience with Helen Mirren – acknowledged with two Olivier Awards and a Tony.
Stephen likes a ciggy or two so he spent some time outside the theatre during Wednesday night’s Skylight opening.
“You’re a sweet man, Mark,” he said to me when I asked him to sign this sketch and told him I really liked his work, momentarily replacing the cigarette with a sharpie to complete the request.
“I always wanted to perform, but I was terribly nervous, which creates a barrier between you and the audience” British actress Patricia Hodge said of when she first tread the boards at the Bush Theatre in the mid-seventies. She obviously broke that barrier at the small, intimate theatre and went on to a stellar stage and screen career.
Best known to TV viewers as Phyllida (Trant) Erskine-Brown, the “Portia of our Chambers” in John Mortimer’s Rumpole of the Bailey, who usually sided with Rumpole, eventually becoming a QC and then a judge. She also featured in BBCs Miranda from 2009-2013.
After earlier nominations, she eventually won the Olivier Award in 2000 for Best Supporting Actress in Money.
Patricia is currently at the Harold Pinter Theatre in Noel Coward’s Relative Values directed by Trevor Nunn until this weekend (21 June). She signed my sketch after last night’s performance.