Drawing: Sarah Soetaert in Chicago

Autographed drawing of Sarah Soetaert in Chicago at the Phoenix Theatre on London's West End

At the age of 9, Sarah Soetaert left her West Flanders hometown of Kortrijk and moved to Antwerp, chasing a dream of becoming a ballet dancer. Six years later, she gained a place at the English National Ballet in London. A chance audition for the musical CATS and a West End debut lead her down a ‘naturally unfolding path’ into musical theatre that has blossomed into a career of acting, singing, and dancing on both stage and screen.

Sarah is currently reprising the lead role, Roxie Hart in the 21st Anniversary production of the Kander and Ebb musical CHICAGO at the Phoenix Theatre, alongside Cuba Gooding Jr, Ruthie Henshall and Josefina Gabrielle. Roxie is a chorus girl who has murdered her lover, but manages to get (spoiler alert) acquitted with the help of a smooth sleazy layer.

It’s a part she knows well. She is the longest running ‘Roxie’ in the West End, beginning in 2007 at the Cambridge Theatre, returning to the role numerous times over the course of six years. The original Time Out review said, “It’s Sarah Soetaert as the crafty fake-ingenue Roxie, who steals the show.”

Sarah signed my Roxie sketch for me after last Saturday’s matinee. Cast changes have been announced, but Sarah told me her contract has been extended.

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Drawing: Susan Hampshire in An Ideal Husband

Autographed drawing of Susan Hampshire in An Ideal Husband at the Vaudeville Theatre on London's West End

If you’re ever feeling a bit downcast, a couple of minutes with the absolutely delightful Susan Hampshire, who celebrated her 81st birthday recently, will take your blues away. I was feeling rather chipper in fact when I met Susan, one of my all time favourite actresses at the Vaudeville stage door last week, but felt even better after our brief encounter.

Susan is back on the London stage as Lady Markby in Jonathan Church’s star-studded revival of Oscar Wilde’s glittering comedy AN IDEAL HUSBAND. After an initial run at the Theatre Royal Bath last year, the production, settled into the Vaudeville Theatre in May for a two month residency as part of Classic Spring’s year-long Wilde season.

In his Guardian review, Michael Billington wrote, “Susan Hampshire brilliantly turns the gossiping Lady Markby into an unquenchable social gusher.” Paul Taylor, in the Independent continued the compliments, “Susan Hampshire is an absolute delight as Lady Markby, wittering away about modern manias in an hilarious tour de force of empty-headed high society prattling.”

My two-minute conversation with Susan included mutual admiration for each other’s artistic prowess, as she happily signed this character drawing I did of her.

Drawing: Orlando Bloom in Killer Joe

Autographed drawing of Orlando Bloom in Killer Joe at Trafalgar Studios in London's West End

Orlando Bloom has returned to the boards after an five year absence, playing the titular hitman in Tracey Lett’s Texas trailer-park Gothic play KILLER JOE at the Trafalgar Studios.

After making his West End debut eleven years ago in IN CELEBRATION at the Duke of York’s, Orlando’s first and only Broadway appearance was the lead in ROMEO AND JULIET at the Richard Rodgers Theatre in 2013, which the New York Times described as a “first rate Broadway debut.”

He plays Joe Cooper, a Dallas policeman with a sideline in contract killing, who is hired by the dysfunctional Smith family to kill a wealthy matriarch and claim the insurance money. When the clients can’t produce the cash for a down payment, Joe demands an alternative ‘retainer.’ Writing in the Telegraph, Paul Taylor says, “Bloom’s Joe is creepily calm and considered, hypnotic in the measured slowness with which he masks his menacing intent. The controlled swagger of his rhythms is in distinct contrast to all the chaotic kerfuffing of the trailer folk. Bloom’s fine performance gathers in intensity and by the end of the play he’s in full sinister command of the stage.”

The Guardian’s Michael Billington has similar praise for Orlando’s performance. “Bloom excellently suggests Joe’s cool confidence, exaggerated politese and head for business.”

Orlando signed and dedicated my drawing a couple of weeks ago after a Saturday matinee.

Drawing: Isabelle Huppert in The Maids

Autographed drawing of Isabelle Huppert in The Maids at the New York City Centre in August 2014

Despite a nearly five decade film and theatre career, Isabelle Huppert really only appeared on the Hollywood radar two years ago with her Golden Globe win and Oscar nomination for her role as Michelle Leblanc in Paul Verhoeven’s neo-noir rape-revenge psychological thriller ELLE.

Recognised as one of France’s most acclaimed and decorated actors… in fact, France’s MOST decorated according to ‘A Beginner’s Guide To Isabelle Huppert’, written by the HuffPost’s Matthew Jacobs after Isabelle’s Oscar nod. “Isabelle Huppert is a certified legend. Phrased differently, Huppert is France’s Meryl Streep,” he said.

In 2013 Isabelle returned to the stage with Cate Blanchett in Jean Genet’s THE MAIDS for the Sydney Theatre Company, playing sisters, Solange and Claire in the new English translation by director Benedict Andrews and Andrew Upton. The original 1947 play was based on the notorious murder case in which two homicidal sisters killed their mistress and her daughter. The production transferred to New York for the summer’s theatrical centrepiece at the Lincoln Centre Festival in August 2014.

Isabelle signed my sketch after her reading of the MARQUIS DE SADE at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London’s Southbank Centre a couple of weeks ago.

Drawing: Keir Charles, Gavin Spokes and Stephanie Street in Quiz

Autographed drawing of Keir Charles, Gavin Spokes and Stephanie Street in Quiz at the Noel Coward Theatre on London's West End

Playwright James Graham’s latest triumph QUIZ just finished at London’s Noel Coward Theatre. After a sell-out season at the Chichester Festival Theatre the play about the ‘coughing Major millionaire scandal’ enjoyed an equally successful three month West End run. In April 2003, Army Major Charles Ingram, his wife Diana and their alleged accomplice Tecwen Whitlock, who is said to have prompted him with right answers with tactical coughs, were convicted for cheating on the hit TV quiz show WHO WANTS TO BE A MILLIONAIRE two years earlier. But were they really guilty? The decision is left up to the audience, who become the jury.

The critical response was best summed up by Paul Taylor in the Independent. “With a mix of populism, personal tragedy, politics and even a pub quiz, this is sure to be another hit for a playwright on a roll.”

Gavin Spokes and Stephanie Street played Charles and Diana Ingram, with Keir Charles in a variety of quizmaster roles, including an ‘uncanny’ Chris Tarrant, MILLIONAIRE’s popular host. All three signed my quick sketch on the penultimate Saturday of the run.

Drawing: Milly Thomas in Dust

Autographed drawing of Milly Thomas in Dust at the Soho Theatre in London

‘I’ve been dead for three days. A Woman. A suicide. A choice. A life. A lie. A truth. An ending. Of sorts.’ The brief summary of the 70 minute one-woman play DUST, written and performed by Milly Thomas.

After its award-winning, sell-out run at the 2017 Edinburgh Fringe DUST transferred to London’s Soho Theatre for four weeks in February last year. It was one of two plays Milly had running at the Festival, the other was BRUTAL CESSATION. DUST is the story of Alice, a twenty-something, high functioning depressive with a double-edged gift for masking how unwell she is. Alice takes her own life and is forced to watch the aftermath of her suicide and its ripple effect on family and friends, realising death isn’t the change she hoped for. The play serves to open up the conversation about the reality of living… and dying with depression.

“I wanted my play DUST to be a battle cry for life,” said Milly, who wrote it six years ago in response to her own mental health issues. “I was frightened to write it, I knew I would have to perform it”. It was a performance, which won her the Stage Edinburgh Award and described by Evening Standard critic Henry Hutchings as “courageous in portraying vulnerability. Alice is wildly profane who has a flippancy, born of being powerless, in life and death.”

I left this montage sketch at the Soho, which Milly signed and returned for me.

Drawing: Joyce DiDonato

Autographed drawing of opera singer Joyce DiDonato

One of the world’s most celebrated opera singers, American lyric-coloratura mezzo- soprano Joyce DiDonato returned to Covent Garden earlier this month for a one night only recital with the Royal Opera’s music director, Antonio Pappano.

For Opera-lite people, like myself, a ‘lyric-coloratura’ has a light, agile singing voice with a great range, that can reach a high upper extension capable of a fast vocal coloratura, which refers to the elaborate ornamentation of a melody. A ‘mezzo-soprano’ simply means ‘half soprano’, pitched between a soprano (high) and a contralto (low).

Described as a ‘gilt-edged opera star’, Joyce is notable for her interpretations of Handel, Mozart and Rossini, composers who included many roles for lyric-coloratura mezzo-sopranos in their operas. Winner of two Grammy Awards, she made her Royal Opera House debut in 2013 as Fox in Leos Janacek’s THE CUNNING LITTLE VIXEN and later that year performed in THE LAST NIGHT OF THE PROMS at London’s Royal Albert Hall, that included leading the audience in the traditional patriotic piece, ‘Rule Britannia.’

Joyce signed my sketch at the Royal Opera House before the June 4 recital.

Drawing: Frances Barber in An Ideal Husband

Autographed drawing of Frances Barber in An Ideal Husband at the Vaudeville Theatre on London’s West EndAutographed drawing of Frances Barber in An Ideal Husband at the Vaudeville Theatre on London's West End

One of Britain’s finest actresses Frances Barber continues her impressive and comprehensive theatre repertoire as the blackmailing Mrs Laura Cheveley in the Classic Spring Company’s Oscar Wilde Season production of AN IDEAL HUSBAND at London’s Vaudeville Theatre.

Nominated for two Olivier Awards-CAMILLE (1985) and UNCLE VANYA (1997), Frances plays the femme fatale –”bitingly witty, famously well dressed, cruel, ambitious and above all, duplicitous” and repeatedly described throughout the play as the product of ‘horrid combinations’. She returns from Vienna as a ‘ghost from the past’ to expose and blackmail the much-admired politician Sir Robert Chiltern.

Frances signed my sketch last week at the stage door.

Drawing: Sally Bretton in An Ideal Husband

Autographed drawing of Sally Bretton in An Ideal Husband at the Vaudeville Theatre on London's West End

English actress Sally Bretton has returned to the London stage as the ‘too virtuous to be true’ Lady Chiltern in Oscar Wilde’s AN IDEAL HUSBAND, the penultimate production in Dominic Dromgoole’s year-long Wilde season at the Vaudeville Theatre.

Last seen as Goneril in KING LEAR at Shakespeare’s Globe a decade ago, Sally plays the adoring wife who believes she has found the ‘ideal husband’ in the upright and incorruptible politician Sir Robert Chiltern. But he harbours a dark secret.

Sally will also be known to TV viewers as Lucy Adams in NOT GOING OUT with Lee Mack and as Martha Lloyd in DEATH IN PARADISE. She signed my quick sketch at the Vaudeville stage door last week.

Drawing: Edward and Freddie Fox in An Ideal Husband

Autographed drawing of Edward Fox and Freddie Fox in An Ideal Husband at the Vaudeville Theatre on London's West End

For the first time, real-life father and son Edward and Freddie Fox appear on stage, creating a ‘delicious double act’ as fictional father and son Lord Caversham and Lord Goring in Oscar Wilde’s AN IDEAL HUSBAND at the Vaudeville Theatre in London. Dubbed the ‘Fantastic Foxes’ by critics, Edward, the head of Britain’s acting dynasty is joined on the boards by his youngest son Fredrick in what was as much a life decision as a professional one.

“I’ve been offered to do Caversham again,” Edward said to Freddie. “I’ll do it if you do it” …and they both took a walk on the Wilde side. “It was such a wonderful opportunity and emotional to finally act with the old man,” said Freddie. Friends call them ‘Fredward’ and note that a large part of their relationship is verbal jousting, so the play is just an extension of that.

Fellow cast member France Barber told the Evening Standard, “You can see the respect they have for each other and they obviously love working together and enjoying each other… it’s just absolutely joyous.”

Both Eddie and Freddie signed my sketch at the stage door last week.