Signed sketch: Victoria Azarenka

Victoria Azarenka

Former world number one tennis player Victoria Azarenka has been the  Australian Open singles champion twice (2012-2013) and has also won two mixed doubles Grand Slam titles – The US Open (2007) with Max Mirnyi and the French Open (2008) with Bob Byran.

She also collected two medals at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, winning the mixed doubles gold with Max and a bronze in the singles.

The six foot Belarusian has won 17 titles and is the 5th in all time ranking, earning US$24,484,172 in prize money.

Her game is based on controlled aggression and a strong two handed backhand. A foot injury forced Victoria to miss a large part of the 2014 season, resulting in her ranking slip, but she’s now on the comeback trail with a solid showing at this year’s Australian Open.

A fellow ‘grapher got Victoria to sign my sketch at this year’s Indian Wells Tournament in the Californian desert.


Sketch: Radiant Vermin, Soho Theatre

Radiant Vermin

Radiant Vermin is Philip Ridley’s new play about homelessness is an allegorical satire about the housing crisis that TimeOut says, “unfolds like a modern day Grimm tale” where a young couple ware prepared to go to the extremes to obtain their dream home.

Matt Trueman (WhatsOnStage) calls it a, “Thatcherite fairytale… unquestionably the more sophisticated picture of our crocked property market.”

The young couple – Olllie and Jill – played by BBC Three Pramface‘s Sean Michael Verey and Game of Thrones Gemma Whelan, are helped by Miss Dee, a modern day fairy godmother (Amanda Daniels).

Henry Hitchings said of their performances, “Fierce energy… dazzling performances.”

“The most precise, intense and breathtaking piece of performance, masterfully directed,” said The Stage critic Natasha Tripney

Radiant Vermin continues at London’s Soho Theatre until 12 April 2015 where Gemma, Sean and Amanda signed my sketch.

Sketch: Susie Essman, Soho Theatre

Susie Essman

The Bronx-born American stand up comedian, writer and television producer Susan ‘Susie’ Essman was back by popular demand at London’s Soho Theatre following her smash hit sell out run in 2013.

She is no shrinking violet and is liberal with the vernacular invectives on stage and screen. The LA Times said Susie is “The most lyrical purveyor of profanity on television. She makes the entire cast of The Sopranos look like rank amateurs. It is really a gift.”

Susie is best known for her role as the Sassy Susie Green on the groundbreaking critically acclaimed HBO comedy series Curb Your Enthusiasm and the character’s hilarious bouts of withering sarcasm and uninhibited insults, including her catchphrase, “you fat f*ck!”

British critic Dominic Cavendish said Susie is “funny, frank and fearless”. She described Downton Abbey as “a piece of sh*t”.

It was great to meet Susie and her husband Jim after the first of her three night gigs at the Soho Theatre where she signed this sketch. I am pleased to say that in person she is the exact opposite of her TV namesake and stand up persona.

Sketch: Amy Lennox, 9 to 5 The Musical

amy lennox

Scottish actress Amy Lennox shot to fame in 2007 when she played Liesel, the eldest daughter of the von Trapp family in the West End production of The Sound of Music at the London Palladium.

In 2010 she appeared in Legally Blonde The Muscial at the Savoy Theatre as Margot opposite Sheridan Smith as Elle Woods. While Sheridan was ill for a month, Amy took over the lead role.

In 2013 Amy toured the UK with the musical 9 to 5. She “had a big bra to fill” playing the feisty southern secretary Doralee Roberts, the part made famous by Dolly Parton in the award-winning stage version of the 1980 film which also starred Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin.

She’s always asked “Am I doing an impersonation of her (Dolly), but I am Doralee Roberts, not Dolly Parton, although it has a massive essence of her in it. Visually, the iconic things are there – the hair, make-up, lovely warm personality and boobs.” Amy told Scotland’s Daily Record. For the record, for the fake ‘famous chest’ she’s corseted with a WonderBra sewn into a Double D bra with chicken fillets with a bit of shading.

Amy signed this sketch of her as Doralee when I left it at the New Wimbledon Theatre where she played the title role in festive panto Cinderella last Christmas.

Sketch: Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, Playhouse Theatre

Women on the Verge

The brilliant Tamsin Greig and Haydn Gwynne have both been nominated for this year’s Olivier Awards for their respective roles in Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.

Previous Olivier winner (for Much Ado About Nothing) in 2007, Tamsin has been nominated for Best Actress in a Musical for her musical debut as Pepa, the lead role in the hilarious adaption of Pedro Almodovar’s Oscar nominated 1988 cult film which, following the Tony nominated production on Broadway, took to the Playhouse Theatre in London’s West End late last year. For her performance as the bitter ex-wife Lucia, Haydn received her second Olivier nomination after her previous nod for her role as Mrs Wilkinson in Billy Elliot. She reprised the role on Broadway, earning a Tony Award nomination.

The Guardian’s Michael Billington’s review included: “there is strong support from Anna Skellern, who seductively suggest hat Candela’s (her character) sexual abandon is more a product of untidiness than promiscuity and from Seline Hizli as a putative bride induced to orgasm by the valium laced gazpacho.”

I sent this sketch of the four to Haydn who not only signed it, but got the other three to do the same. Originally booked for a limited season, the production has now extended for three months until 22 August 2015.

Sketch: A View From The Bridge, Wyndham’s Theatre

A View From The Bridge

The Young Vic’s radical production of Arthur Miller’s A View From The Bridge, directed by the visionary Belgian Ivo van Hove, transferred to the Wyndham’s Theatre in the West End last month. Mark Strong plays the central character Eddie Carbone, the honourable Brooklyn longshoreman with dishonourable love for his niece Catherine, played by Phoebe Fox. Both performances have been deservedly recognised with 2015 Olivier nominations, along with the director.

The cast perform in bare feet on an intensely lit space, that is stripped back with no set at all except a black box container that sits over it and defines the stage. It sold out even before it opened at the Young Vic and was the most anticipated transfer in the West End.

The Daily Telegraph, Evening Standard, The Independent, Mail on Sunday, Time Out and The Times all gave the production five stars, describing it as “unmissable”, “unforgettable”, “magnetic”, “electrifying” and “astonishingly bold”. Time Out said, “To say that A View from The Bridge is the best show in the West End at the moment is like saying Stone Henge is the current best rock arrangement in Wiltshire.”

Mark, Phoebe and Nancy Walker, who plays Eddie’s wife, all signed a previous sketch I did at the Young Vic. This montage of Mark and Phoebe was signed by both of them last week at the Wyndham’s stage door, where I congratulated them for their Olivier noms.

The play’s limited 8 week engagement runs until 11 April.

Sketch: Kill Me Now, Park Theatre

Kill Me Now

Greg Wise returned to the stage for the first time in 17 years in the UK premiere of Brad Fraser’s dark father-son story Kill Me Now, in the Park Theatre’s intimate Park 200 auditorium in Finsbury Park, London.

It’s advertised as a dark comedy, but it’s more like a tragedy about the intimate and unsentimental portrait of a family confronting disability, punctuated with glimpses of wit and humour.

Greg plays Jake, a widower who has abandoned a promising career as a writer to look after his disabled son, Joey. It’s a physically demanding role which he plays with, “noble sensitivity… his interactions with his son are often agonising,” said The Evening Standard’s Henry Hutchings in his four star review.

The comparatively unknown Oliver Gomm (Joey) is a revelation, with Hutchings comparing him to Daniel Day-Lewis in My Left Foot and recent Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything. He described Charlotte Harwood’s performance as Jake’s tough, but vulnerable sister as “robust”.

I sent this sketch to Greg, Oliver and Charlotte who all kindly signed it for me. Kill Me Now finishes this Sunday, 29 March 2015.

Sketch: Penelope Wilton in Taken At Midnight, Theatre Royal Haymarket

penelope wilton

Returning to the West End after a five year absence, Downton Abbey star Penelope Wilton reprised her role as Irmgard Litten in Taken at Midnight when it transferred to the Theatre Royal Haymarket from a sold out season in Chichester last month.

Putting maternal love on centre stage, Mark Hayhurst’s 2014 play is based on the life of the young German Jewish lawyer Hans Litten who’s brilliant cross examination of Adolf Hitler in the trial of a band of murderous SA men in 1931 led to his arrest by the Nazis in 1933.

The play explores Irmgard’s five year struggle to secure her son’s release. The Guardian said, “Gripping, Penelope Wilton shines in Mark Hayhurst’s deeply engrossing drama about the high price of resisting tyranny.”

Penelope has been nominated for six Olivier Awards, including this year’s shortlist for her “profoundly moving performance” (The Sunday Times) as Litten’s mother.

Sketch: Helena Bonham Carter

helena BC

The exquisite Helena Bonham Carter is one of the best in the business on and off the screen. On the many occasions that I have met her she has always been lovely and taken the time to not only sign, but talk to you.

She was the reason why I attended the UK premiere of Kenneth Branagh‘s Cinderella at London’s Odeon Cinema in Leicester Square this week. The two time Academy Award nominee and BAFTA winner plays the Fairy Godmother and it was going to take a bit of magic to get Helena’s sig on my sketch. I usually try and position myself near the drop off area where most of the celebrities hop out of their vehicles and start signing before heading to do the obligatory and time consuming media commitments.

I didn’t manage to secure a spot, stuck away from the action in a corner that didn’t bode well for my mission. That proved to be the case as the cast and crew all arrived, signed a few in the drop off zone and moved on, reducing me to a passive spectator, getting ‘graphs but of the photo variety only. As usual Helena was one of the last to arrive.

She was in a van with her family and because of a car behind was moved on a little, alighting near me. She immediately waved her wand, well her sharpie, and started signing just a few metres from my position and more importantly was moving in my direction. Helena has a wonderful array of signatures from a simple triple initials ‘HBC’ to the full ‘Helena Bonham Carter’. For the purist ‘grapher collecting all the variations is a priority. I have been lucky to have acquired a few. Helena spent time chatting with me and signing the drawing with a very nice dedication and “Helena BC x’ and as a magical bonus, initialled my Sweeney Todd book.

Sketch: Ron Cook in The Ruling Class at Trafalgar Studios

Ron Cook

The versatile English actor Ron Cook has been a stalwart of theatre, film and television since the 1970’s. He may not be a household name but will be instantly recognisable to global audiences in all three mediums. Ron has appeared in  most of the popular British TV shows, including DOCTOR WHO, BERGERAC, MIDSOMMER MURDERS, THE SINGING DETECTIVE and can be currently seen as Mr Crabb the accountant in the ITV series MR SELFRIDGE. He has actually played Napoleon Bonaparte twice, in a guest appearance in SHARPE and in the feature film QUILLS – one of Ron’s 54 movies, which also includes THE COOK (appropriately), THE THIEF, HIS WIFE & HER LOVER, SECRETS & LIES and TOPSY-TURVY. A highlight of Ron’s extensive theatre work was an Olivier Award Best Supporting Actor nomination for his role in JUNO AND THE PAYCOCK at the Donmar Warehouse. He can now be seen on the London stage as Sir Charles Gurney in the first revival of Peter Barnes’s social satire THE RULING CLASS at the Trafalgar Studios, where he signed this sketch.