Drawing: Natasha J. Barnes in Funny Girl

Natasha J Barnes

“She may have gone out an understudy, but she came back a star”.

Julian Marsh’s famous declaration to Peggy Sawyer in 42nd STREET sums up Natasha J Barnes’ fairytale rise since taking over the lead role of Fanny Brice in the West End transfer of FUNNY GIRL by his month at the Savoy Theatre due to Sheridan Smith’s recent sabbatical due to health issues. It’s also a line a few London critics have been using in their praise of her performance.

Natasha is no novice to the stage, appearing in AMERICAN IDOL, CHESS and SPRING AWAKENING and was Sheridan’s understudy in the Menier Chocolate Factory run before the West End transfer.

Initially she faced disgruntled ticket holders who had paid to see Sheridan play the role immortalised by Barbara Streisand in the 1964 Broadway production and subsequent film.

“I’ve certainly never seen a more beautiful performer than Sheridan,” said Natasha, “but I have real faith in the audience and I honestly feel that no matter how disappointed people might feel that they booked to see her and got me they will find a way of enjoying the show. They’ve got two hours of me so I’m going to do the best that I can do.”
And do her best she certainly did, receiving a standing ovation. She stunned the critics and judging by social media, using the old show biz cliche, ‘a star is born.’

“The 25 year-old isn’t just a serviceable stand-in, she’s a sensation in her own right, every bit as good as Sheridan Smith” wrote The Telegraph’s Dominic Cavendish. “She has a radiant charisma and twinkling mischief that’s irresistible.”

The added piquancy is that her whirlwind story is akin to that being played out on stage, the bio-drama of the early 20th century American vaudeville star Fanny Brice.
Celia Walden, also in The Telegraph said “with her heart-shaped face, impish smile and little curvy body could pass as Smith’s sister.”

When I was drawing this sketch I thought she had more than a passing resemblance to Imelda Staunton who some critics have likened her both physically and performance wise.

I joined a supportive crowd at the stage door after Saturday’s matinee where mutual appreciation flowed. Natasha seemed genuinely overwhelmed with the adoration and was more than happy to sign my sketch.

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Drawing: Michael Socha and Tamla Kari in This Is Living

Michael Socha Tamla Kari

Liam Borrett’s award-winning debut play THIS IS LIVING is a poignant study of what it means to say goodbye. I was lucky enough to say hello to the very affable Michael Socha last week as he retuned to the stage for the first time in eight years. After a sold-out run at the 2014 Edinburgh Fringe Festival the play has transferred to the Trafalgar Studios in the West End. Michael who appropriately plays Michael is joined by Tamla Kari as his wife Alice on a waterlogged stage which mirrors the lake in which she has drowned 12 hours earlier. The couple spend two hours on the bleak, soggy environment delivering one of the unmissable productions of the year. The conversations  between Michael and the ‘unquietly deceased’ Alice explore the grieving process that manages to both break your heart and fill it with joy simultaneously.

Both Actors are best  known for their screen work. Michael as the bully Harvey in the hit film THIS IS ENGLAND and its subsequent spin off TV series and the E4 drama THE ALIENS, and Tamla as Constance Bonacieux in the swashbuckling THE MUSKETEERS and in both THE INBETWEENER films. Both Michael and Tamla appear in the supernatural drama BEING HUMAN.

Michael signed my drawing but I wasn’t able to wait for Tamla on my first visit, so on Saturday I returned to the stage door to complete the task. I had previously met Tamla when she was appearing in VERSAILLES at the Donmar Warehouse a couple of years ago and she signed a sketch for me then. After the matinee Michael popped out to get his sushi and was his usual friendly self, chatting with fans when he not only noticed me but remembered me from the week earlier. I must get rid of the ‘stalker’ tag sharpied  on my forehead. He wasn’t sure if Tamla was coming out, so kindly took the sketch to her and retuned with it signed. Top notch actor and even better bloke.
THIS IS LIVING.

Drawing: Jenny Seagrove in A Daughter’s a Daughter

Jenny Seagrove A daughters daughter

This was the other sketch Jenny Seagrove signed for me a couple of weeks ago as she arrived at the Theatre Royal Haymarket where she is currently appearing in Alan Ayckbourn’s HOW THE OTHER HALF LOVES.

It’s from Agatha Christie’s mother-daughter drama A DAUGHTER’S A DAUGHTER, which had its West End debut at the Trafalgar Studios in December 2009. It was penned under the pseudonym Mary Westmacott, which Agatha Christie used for a series of six romantic novels between 1930 – 1956. It is very different to her other stage work and is considered a more personal play than anything else.

Jenny played Ann, a widow, whose only daughter Sarah (played by Honeysuckle Weeks – not a name you could forget) returns home after the Second World War. Resentment and jealously rages as gradually their relationship corrodes. I drew a quick biro sketch of Jenny and Honeysuckle, which they both signed for me in early 2010, at the end of the run. This is a more detailed study of Jenny in her role and a superimposed portrait with my trusty 4B pencil.

Drawing: Samuel James as Screaming Lord Sutch in Monster Raving Loony

Samuel James

“Vote for insanity – you know it makes sense”.

This was the slogan for the Official Monster Raving Loony Party, lead by its flamboyant founder David ‘Screaming Lord’ Sutch. The former rocker-turned serial parliamentary candidate became a British political institution. For over three decades he stood in every parliamentary election, becoming the staple of election night entertainment and a reliable eccentric political presence. Sutch’s unique contribution includes holding the record for losing all 39 elections he entered. He came within 200 votes of getting his deposit back once, which was considered a minor victory.

James Graham’s new play MONSTER RAVING LOONY premiered at The Drum Theatre Royal Plymouth in February, transferring to London’s Soho Theatre this month. It is described as the moving journey through the life and political exploits of ‘Screaming Lord Sutch’, while examining the state of the nation and Britain’s post-war identity crisis.

While the public saw the good Lord’s  exuberant fun-loving ‘loony’ face with his famous manic grin, his private face was completely the opposite. Sutch suffered from depression and hung himself in 1999 at the age of 58. Many political figures paid their respects, including the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, who acknowledged that elections would never be quite the same without him.

Samuel James, known for CASULTY, EASTENDERS and currently BIRDS OF A FEATHER reprises his critically acclaimed role as the loony Lord. In his Guardian review, Andrew Dickson wrote, “Samuel James offers a barnstorming performance, all strutting gait and eye-popping leer,” clad in His Lordship’s signature undertakers top hat and leopard-print jacket.

I left this sketch at the Soho for the ‘Signing Lord Samuel’ to graph, which he duly did. He gets my vote! MONSTER RAVING LOONY runs until 18 June.

Drawing: Jane Wymark in Midsomer Murders

Jane Wymark

“Ooh la la, c’est Madame Barnaby!” said two ladies when they recognised English actress Jane Wymark, sitting next to them in a Paris cafe. For thirteen years Jane played Joyce Barnaby, the screen wife of John Nettle’s DCI Tom Barnaby in the detective series  MIDSOMER MURDERS. It’s popularity spread worldwide. “People tell me everywhere just how much they like the programme, seems I’m big in France!”

Prior to that Jane became a household name in the period drama POLDARK during the 1970’s.

There was no escaping the acting profession. Her English father was the Royal Shakespeare Company actor Patrick Wymark and  Olwen, her American mother was a playwright. “I know acting was a stupid profession to go into, but when you hang around theatres all your life, it imprints,” she told the Birmingham Mail.

She stared playing Joyce in 1997. “There’s a heavy burden being the nicest person on the telly. I am fond of Joyce, but she’s very limiting.” When she finished the role after John retired in 2010, she was quoted as saying ,”it would be nice to have some completely evil roles and play a really bad person with no redeeming features.”

Jane is currently appearing in the West End at the Arts Theatre in a series of ‘playets’ by five of Britain’s leading writers, collectively titled A VIEW FROM ISLINGTON NORTH. It’s not exactly evil unless you feel political satire is villainous. Jane may have finished playing the nicest person on TV, but that hasn’t ended in real life. I meet her at the front door (which is also the stage door) before the first matinee and was just like Joyce. I told her how much I liked MIDSOMERS, as did everyone else in the ‘bunch of Barnabyites’ gathered. She actually took my sketch into one of the tables in the cafe area of the theatre so she could sign without ruining it, telling me that she had contacted Laura (Howard, who played he screen daughter Cully) and reminded herself to get in touch with John to come and see the play. A MIDSOMERS reunion, how ideal.

Drawing: Sarah Alexander

Sarah Alexander

English actress Sarah Alexander finished her A-levels then left home at 19 for the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, turning down a place at the University of Manchester for her first professional acting job.

Sarah has specialised in comedy, appearing in a number of high profile TV shows  including ARMSTRONG AND MILLER, SMITH AND JONES, COUPLING, SMACK THE PONY and WORST WEEK OF MY LIFE. She also played Dr Amanda Hunter in the hospital comedy GREEN WING.

Since 2013 Sarah has played the role of Polly Creek, the wife of Alan Davies’ title character in the BBC’s mystery crime drama JONATHAN CREEK.

Sarah’s stage credits include THE VAGINA MONOLOGUES and Lady Macbeth in ‘the Scottish play’. She returned to boards this month at the Arts Theatre in the West End in the new political satire A VIEW FROM ISLINGTON NORTH, where I met her after the opening matinee on Saturday and she signed this portrait sketch for me.

Drawing: Pearl Mackie

Pearl Mackie

A month ago to the day Pearl Mackie was revealed as the Doctor’s next companion in the BBC cult sci-fi television programme DR WHO. It was announced during the half time interval of the FA Cup semi-final.

The current and twelfth incarnation of the Doctor, Peter Capaldi described Pearl as “a fine actress with a wonderful zest and charm, who will be a refreshing addition to the TARDIS.”

The Brixton-born, Bristol-educated actress, singer and dancer, graduated from the Old Vic Theatre School in 2010 and has packed in a lot since then, including films, TV and a dozen stage productions. She played Anne-Marie Fraser in the medical soap DOCTORS (must be something magnetic in that word) and is currently appearing at the Gielgud in the Olivier and Tony Award winning play THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME in London’s West End until next month.

As you can imagine since the DR WHO announcement, interest in Pearl has magnified, attracting a few more punters at the Gielgud stage door, including moi with this sketch, which she signed and dedicated for me with plenty of ‘zest and charm.’

Drawing: Ryan Gosling in ‘Dead Man’s Bones’

Ryan Gosling

Canadian-born actor, producer, director and musician Ryan Gosling began his career as a child star on the Disney Channel’s MICKEY MOUSE CLUB in the early 1990s. In 2005 he and his friend and fellow musician Zach Shields discovered they had a mutual obsession with the Haunted Mansion ride at Disneyland. They wanted to write a monster-themed musical, but settled for forming a band instead, called ‘DEAD MAN’S BONES’ in 2008, releasing their self-titled album the following year. The duo are described as indie, folk and gothic rock, with some dark wave in the mix. Ryan performs under the alias ‘Baby Goose’.

Ryan was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of Dan Dunne, a troubled history teacher in the 2006 film HALF NELSON and has received numerous Golden Globe nominations for his varied body of film work. He made his directorial debut with LOST RIVER in 2013. Ryan also co-owns ‘Tagine’, a Moroccan restaurant in Beverly Hills and supports various charitable causes including PETA and Invisible Children Inc. In 2005 he joined the volunteer group in Biloxi, Mississippi as part of the clean up effort after Hurricane Katrina.

Ryan was in London this week to promote his latest film the dark detective comedy THE NICE GUYS alongside Russell Crowe. He attended the premiere at the Odeon in Leicester Square where he signed and dedicated this quick sketch I did of him as ‘Baby Goose’ in DEAD MAN’S BONES with his even quicker, simple but stylised ‘Ryan’ signature.