Sketch: Ruby Wax, Sane New World

Ruby Wax

American born, naturalised British comedian Ruby Wax recently graduated from Oxford University with a Master’s Degree in Mindfulness based Cognitive Therapy. In 2013, her book Sane New World became a number one best seller which she has now turned into a stage show.

On her website, Ruby says she had a gift for canoeing, but was forced to drop it because there was no future in it, so she classically trained at the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1978 followed by 25 years on BBC and Channel Four. Ruby was nominated for a BAFTA Award in 1996 for her interview with Sarah Duchess of York, and interview that attracted over 14 million viewers.

Sane New World helps us understand why we sabotage our own sanity and provides a manual on how to survive the 21st Century.

It has just completed a sold out run at the St James Theatre in London where she signed my sketch, before taking the show down under during April and returning to the UK for a national tour.

Sketch: John Light in Taken at Midnight at Theatre Royal Haymarket

John Light

British actor John Light has been nominated for a Supporting Actor Olivier Award for his role as a Gestapo officer. Jonathan Church’s world premiere production of Taken at Midnight, the new play by documentary film maker Mark Hayhurst, was first staged as part of the Chichester Festival Theatre’s Hidden Histories Season.

It’s the extraordinary story of a young Jewish lawyer Hans Litten who subpoenaed Hitler to appear as a witness in a criminal trial in 1931. he was taken into “protective custody” and sent to Sonnenburg Concentration Camp. The play focusses on the attempts of Litten’s mother (Penelope Wilton) to confront the Gestapo and rescue her son from his inevitable fate.

After it’s success in Chichester, the production transferred to the Theatre Royal, Haymarket in London’s West End for a limited run which ended last weekend.

The New York Times correspondent Matt Wolf said “Mr Light is suavely chilling in the part” of Dr Conrad, the Nazi official who plays down the severity of Litten’s fate even though he knows the atrocities that await. Hans Litten died in Dachau in 1938, at the age of 34.

Sketch: Shazia Mirza

Shazia Mirza

International award-winning British-Asian, Muslim, comedian, actor and writer Shazia Mirza used to be a secondary school science teacher (she taught rapper Dizzee Rascal) before taking on a career in stand up. She gained notoriety in the months after the September 11 2001 attacks and the resulting Islamophobia, beginning her shows with the deadpan remark, “my name is Shazia Mirza – at least that’s what it says on my pilot’s license”.

In April 2007 she presented a documentary on BBC3 entitled, “F*** Off, I’m a Hairy Woman.” The Observer listed her as one of the 50 funniest acts in British comedy. She has been a regular columnist for The Guardian since 2004 and began writing fortnightly columns in the New Statesman, winning Columnist of the Year 2008 at the prestigious PPA Awards, to go with her numerous comedy awards.

In his list of the 50 best jokes of the noughties, The Telegraph’s Dominic Cavendish included two of Shazia’s quotes: “Men who blow themselves up are promised 72 virgins in paradise. That’s a high price to pay for a shag. In real life you’d be hard pushed to find one virgin. It begs the question – what on earth do they all look like? That’s a lot of hairy women”

and

“The only way Heather Mills can redeem herself now is to find Madeleine McCann.”

According to her website, “she hopes one day to have a cleaner and a jacuzzi.”

Shazia signed my sketch at the WOW – Women of the World Festival at the Royal Festival Hall in London earlier this month.

Sketch: Caitlin Moran

Caitlin Moran

English broadcaster and writer Caitlin Moran is the bestselling author of How To Be A Woman. She’s an award winning columnist and critic for The Times in London and was named the Observer’s Young Reporter of the Year aged 15.

Caitlin’s upbringing in Wolverhampton inspired her TV drama comedy series Raised By Wolves, which she wrote with her sister Caroline. The main character is Germaine – a “gobby, vaginally-focussed, horny, 16 year old extrovert”.

I met Caitlin at the stage door (or as they call it, The Artist’s Entrance) of the Royal Festival Hall last week when she joined Bridget Christie and Shazia Mirza as the “Three titans of comedy and thinking” for the WOW – Women of the World Festival and she signed my sketch.

Sketch: My Night WIth Reg, Apollo Theatre starring Matt Bardock, Julian Ovenden, Geoffrey Streatfeild, Lewis Reeves, Richard Cant and Jonathan Broadbent

My Night with Reg

In her five star review, The Evening Standard’s Fiona Mountford said “British drama doesn’t get better than this.”

Following  a sell out season at London’s Donmar Warehouse, Kevin Elyot’s 1994 modern classic, My Night With Reg transferred to the Apollo Theatre for a strictly limited run in January this year.

Robert Hasties’s exquisite 20th anniversary revival will make you laugh and cry, Dominic Cavendish said, “it’s the truest, funniest and most searing play to be found anywhere on the London stage.”

Set in London in the 1980s, it follows a group of gay friends over several years, through the highs and low of their friendship amid the escalating AIDS crisis. The action takes place over three scenes in Guy’s London apartment.

The much discussed ‘Reg’ is conspicuously absent through the play, but is seemingly sleeping with all Guy’s close friends. As Cavendish puts it, he’s, “as pivotal as he is promiscuous”.

The first Act’s comedy as three university pals reunite for a house warming, gives way to emotion and tragedy as the AIDS crisis casts it shadow over the group.

Mountford described the cast as “unbeatable sextet of performances, so sublime,” referring to Matt Bardock (Benny) Julian Ovenden (John) Geoffrey Streatfeild (Daniel) Lewis Reeves (Eric), Richard Cant (Bernie) and Jonathan Broadbent (Guy).

On its premiere Reg won both Olivier and Evening Standard Awards. This production has been nominated for Best Revival in the 2015 Olivier nominations.

I left this sketch at the theatre and it was returned signed by all the cast except Julian, so I waited at the stage door to complete the set in person.

I thanked Richard as I told him of the missing ‘graph. He quipped, “there’s always one”. But it’s the one I got as Julian was more than happy to complete the sextet of sigs.

Sketch: Kim Noble in You’re Not Alone at the Soho Theatre

Kim Noble

Kim Noble has been labelled an eccentric genius. The BAFTA nominated performance artist and comedian won the 2000 Perrier Award. In his latest show You’re Not Alone,  which finished at the Soho Theatre last week, he tries to get close to other people – one man’s attempts at connection, friendship and employment at B&Q, an escape from the loneliness of modern society.

Theatre critic Henry Hitchings summed up Kim’s latest show as “Noble’s approach is twisted and unpredictable… the result is a warped, ingenious and deeply uncomfortable 65 minutes.”

You’re Not Alone previewed at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe, receiving rave reviews and winning a total theatre Award and nominated for 2 Chortle Awards.

Veronica Lee, the Arts Desk reviewer said, “The Soho Theatre’s lawyer was in the night I saw Kim Noble’s new show, and that’s not surprise as it pushes a few boundaries – public decency and legality being just two.”

“The lighter Kim manages to derive comes from shock rather than slapstick,” said Rebecca Jones. (A Younger Theatre)

His approach to making friends is “unorthodox shading into the unethical” said Alice Jones in The Independent. He records his neighbours sex lives, poses as sexting “Sarah” as he chats up boys on Facebook, defecates in a church, becomes obsessed with Keith on the checkout at Morrison’s…

The Times simply said, “utterly compelling” and The Telegraph “one of the most hypnotically involving pieces of theatre I’ve ever seen”.

I met Kim just before his last performance at the Soho and he was genuinely overwhelmed with the sketch and said “What do I write – I don’t do much of this stuff”.

Sketch: Andy Nyman and Catherine Tate in Assassins at Menier Chocolate Factory

Catherine Tate Andy Nyman Thirteen people have tried to kill the President of the United States. Stephen Sondheim’s ensemble musical Assassins follows nine of them. Four succeeded, including Andy Nyman’s character, Charles Guiteau – the killer of President James Garfield. Catherine Tate‘s character missed.

Not one of Sondheim’s most popular works, Assassins is experimental and dark in what critic Henry Hitchings called “mixing elements of slapstick and documentary”. Its London revival has just completed its Christmas season run at the Menier Chocolate Factory, directed by Jamie Lloyd, described as “irresistibly potent… that exudes the very opposite of festive cheer.”

“Catherine Tate is cruelly funny… and Andy Nyman has an electric intensity as the delusional Charles Guiteau, not least when squirming on the end of an executioner’s rope,” Hitchings said. Catherine played Sarah Jane Moore, the unhinged, ditsy, multiple divorcee who shot a nearby taxi driver instead of President Gerald Ford.

Both Catherine and Andy kindly signed my sketch on the final day.

Sketch: Glynis Barber in Beautiful, Aldwych Theatre

Glynis Barber

British actress Glynis Barber, best known for her small screen roles in hit eighties come series Dempsey and Makepeace, Blake’s 7, Eastenders and Emerdale. She’s currently on the West End stage playing Genie Klein (Carole King’s Mum) in the London production of the Broadway hit Beautiful – The Carole King Musical at the Aldwych Theatre.

Carole’s album Tapestry has sold more than 25 million copies and the musical focuses on her route to success between the ages of 16 and 29, as part of the hit songwriting team with husband Gerry Goffin.

Glynis is a lifelong fan of Carole King. She doesn’t sing, but loves the fact that she will get to hear Carole King music all year. Initially booking till 13 June, the show has extended its run due to popular demand until February next year. It has also just been nominated for 8 Olivier Awards.

Sketch: Katie Brayben in Beautiful, Aldwych Theatre

Katie Brayben

West End’s newest leading lady, Katie Brayben, has just been nominated for an Olivier Award for her role as the legendary singer songwriter Carole King in Beautiful – the Carole King Musical.

Katie’s nod for Best Actress in a Musical is one of eight for the show, “I am absolutely over the moon,” she told Digital Spy.

Katie doesn’t read reviews, so in case she’s reading this, I won’t spoil it for her, other than to say her Olivier nomination would have the unanimous support of all the critics.

One of the most successful songwriters in pop music history, Carole King’s life story has been transformed into a hit Broadway musical, with 7 Tony nominations, winning Best Leading Actress for Jessie Mueller.

Carole was one of Katie’s idols and actually appeared at the curtain call on the press night. When Katie was signing my sketch at the stage door after Saturday’s matinee, I asked her if she knew Carole would be there and she said, “no, if I had known, I wouldn’t have been able to do it!”

Sketch: Carly Bawden in Assassins, Menier Chocolate Factory

Carly Bawden

The delightful Carly Bawden has just finished playing a failed murderer in the London revival of Stephen Sondheim’s 1990 ensemble cabaret Assassins at the Menier Chocolate Factory.

Set in a fairground shooting gallery, the musical follows the assassination attempts – successful and otherwise – of 9 presidents of the United States.

Carly plays Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme, who had President Gerald Ford in her sights before the gun failed to fire. WhatsOnStage called her character, “the wacko follower of cultist psychopath Charles Manson.” Critics were unanimous in praise of her performance, one calling it, “irrepressible”.

After the 26 year old shone in daring shows Pippin (also at the Menier) and in The Umbrellas of Cherbourg at the Gielgud, Carly’s star turn was her acclaimed leading role in the Kneehigh Theatre’s Christmas production of My Fair Lady at the Sheffield Crucible in 2012.

Under the headline ‘The Lady is a Champ’, Sarah Cockburn called Carly “impressive” on the Culture Vulture site, The Telegraph said, “remarkable” and Variety simply said, “An Ideal Eliza”

I was hoping to get this “Squeaky” sketch signed by Carly. Having missed her earlier, I waited outside the theatre after the final performance on Saturday evening. However, the customary end of the season celebrations were taking place in the font of house Menier cafe. Not wanting to interrupt proceedings, but keen to catch my last train, my best shot was to ask someone to get it to her.

The very kind and helpful Gerry (a staff member) appeared at the side door and designated smoking area. He happily took my sketch in and got Carly to sign it, she then came out to thank me in person.