Drawing: Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement – Flight Of The Conchords

Autographed drawing of Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement Flight Of The Conchords

Self-styled as New Zealand’s ‘fourth most popular guitar-based digital-bongo acapella- rap-funk-comedy-folk duo’, and ‘retired sex symbols’, Flight Of The Conchords, Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement are, by global consensus, one of the most successful musical comedy bands on the planet.

As fellow Kiwis… actually as a members of the human race we had to see them perform live, the first time in eight years in the UK. We managed to get tickets to see them at London’s O2. However their big comeback, sold-out arena tour was postponed after a couple of dates, when Bret fell down a flight of stairs, breaking two bones in his hand, “a very rock ‘n’ roll injury” he wrote on his Instagram post.

Bones fixed, the bona fide rock stars rescheduled, adding extra shows. We finally got to the O2 gig on 22 June. “Sorry we’re three months late,” they said in typical Conchordian laid back schtick. Jemaine also apologised for looking ‘older and dustier’, but Bret pointed out that the audience have also put on some years since they last toured “So we’re even.” In London, they did three sell-out shows at the O2 and four at the Eventim Apollo in Hammersmith.

The O2’s a fortress and nigh impossible to meet the artists let alone get stuff signed. The Apollo isn’t much better, with a reinforced gate protecting the lane to the stage door, but it has an opening. I had also heard that sometimes barriers are erected for after show signing and selfie sessions. I decided to go with an entry rather than exit option and quickly did this sketch, arriving at the said gate just as it was closing after Bret and Jemaine had passed through in a big black van and down to the stage door.

However, while I was muttering the typical antipodean expletive, ‘bugger’ or something stronger, a very accommodating gentleman with a lanyard approached me and asked if he could help. I explained the situation and he promised to pass it on. A month passed, nothing returned. Then yesterday this arrived back in the post. Apologies for thinking the worse of said accommodating gentleman with lanyard… in fact ‘thanks.’

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Drawing: Samuel L. Jackson

Autographed drawing of actor Samuel L Jackson

Samuel Leroy Jackson is one of the most prolific film actors on the planet and as a consequence he has the highest-grossing film total of all time it’s a US box office over $5.1 billion, averaging $70.5 million per film and over $12 billion worldwide.

Most will know of at least one Samuel L. Jackson film – he’s been in a fair number – so no need listing them and many of the titles are lengthy, such as CAPTAIN AMERICA: INFINITY WAR, his latest instalment as Marvel’s Nick Fury, head of S.H.I.E.L.D. He was in London a few weeks ago at the Disney premiere of INCREDIBLES 2 at the BFI. Samuel returns as the voice of Lucius Best, known as Frozone, who has the ability to freeze water.

I’d actually had this sketch for a while, I think since a few CAPTAIN AMERICA or AVENGER premieres ago, but no sig-gar! This time I managed to find myself in the right spot on the red carpet on a very hot, sunny Sunday and Samuel signed it for me.

Drawing: Russell Howard

Autographed drawing of comedian Russell Howard

One of the many absorbing things about living in London is that you frequently see well-known people, often referred to as celebrities in mainstream media or ‘targets’ in the tabloids, walking amongst us mere mortals, on the tube or shopping, going about their not-so-well-known business. In general I don’t bother them and visa-versa.

I might occasionally say ‘hi’ or even sometimes, if they are currently in theatre, a complementary comment. Sharpie stalking siggy requests are to be avoided. A few years back, Geoffrey Rush, was walking towards a restaurant and declined one such request from a fan, saying he was not ‘working’ and it was ‘his time’, but would be happy to oblige at the Premiere (THE KING’S SPEECH) the next day. Fair enough. These days the selfie has replaced the siggy, but the principle’s the same. It’s important to acknowledge private and public time.

However on Saturday, one of my favourite comics, Russell Howard, was standing beside me at the traffic lights opposite the Palace Theatre on Charing Cross Road. Last year, I had drawn a sketch of Russell, one of the best selling acts in British stand-up, when he smashed the record for consecutive performances at the Royal Albert Hall, with ten, beating previous holders Frank Sinatra and Barry Manilow. He returned to the venue in January this year to host AN EVENING OF COMEDY for the Teenage Cancer Trust, where I had hoped to get my rendering signed, but I missed the opportunity. As luck and a certain trace from my all-too-brief experience as a boy scout would have it, the sketch was still in my folder.

He was heading to the Soho Theatre to see fellow comedian Andy Zaltzman. Same – two things I had in common with, as Time Out called him, a ‘comedy superstar.’ Firstly I thought I had better make sure it was actually him-lot of doppelgängers in these here parts.

“Russell?”.

He confirmed. Then I showed him the sketch-not a usual balmy Saturday evening occurrence, even for a comedy superstar, but he was genuinely, I like to think surprised rather than shocked, followed by low status expletives and was happy to sign it before the little green man flashed and it was time to cross the road.

Drawing: Phoebe Fildes in The Mousetrap

Autographed drawing of Phoebe Fildes in The Mousetrap at St Martin's Theatre on London's West End

Agatha Christie’s legendary whodunit THE MOUSETRAP is the world’s longest-running play in modern times, since starting at the Ambassadors Theatre on the 25th November 1952. In 1974 it transferred next door to its current residency, the St Martin’s Theatre.

In that time many different casts have appeared. The original included Sir Richard Attenborough as Detective Sergeant Trotter and his wife, Sheila Sim as Mollie Ralston. The contemporary cast changes regularly and the current one began in April this year.

Over the past few years I have drawn a couple of characters after each changeover. Mollie, the proprietor of Monkswell Manor, where the action is set, is one I have concentrated on. When passing the theatre last month I noticed that Phoebe Fildes was playing Mollie. I had met her at the Vaudeville earlier this year when she was Lady Stutfield in Oscar Wilde’s A WOMAN OF NO IMPORTANCE and she signed my cast drawing.

Phoebe also played the Girl in the musical ONCE at the Phoenix Theatre and spent two years with the Shakespeare’s Globe’s world tour taking HAMLET to every country on earth with multiple roles, including Ophelia, Gertrude and Horatio. So I had to do a quick sketch of her as Mollie from the publicity stills in front of the theatre, which signed it for me.

Drawing: Aidan Turner in The Lieutenant of Innishmore

Autographed drawing of Aidan Turner in The Lieutenant of Inishmore at the Noel Coward Theatre in London's West End

Aidan Turner made his West End debut this month as the unhinged Padraic in Michael Grandage’s revival of Martin McDonagh’s brutal black comedy THE LIEUTENANT OF INNISHMORE at the Noel Coward Theatre. Padraic, turned down by the IRA for being ‘too mad’, and unable to be accommodated by any mainstream terrorist organisations, becomes a lieutenant in the INLA, a Republican paramilitary splinter group.

The Evening Standard’s Henry Hitchings called it, “FATHER TED colliding with RESERVOIR DOGS – or perhaps more appropriately Reservoir Cats.” Audiences first meet Padraic pulling out the the toenails of James, a Belfast drug pusher, chastising him for selling marijuana to good Catholic children as opposed to Protestant children, which he deems marginally acceptable. As he is about to slice James’s right nipple off he gets a call that from home that his beloved cat and only friend for the past 15 years ‘Wee Thomas’ is poorly. He breaks down sobbing and decides to immediately return to Innishmore to see his ailing moggy.

‘Wee Thomas’ is in fact dead, head smashed in, brains squeezed out ‘like toothpaste.’ Padraic seeks violent retribution – a sentimental psychopath’s overweening grief for his pet and indifference to human life – setting the tone for the rest of the play. As Henry Hitchings observes he “plays him, not as some wide-eyed barbarian, but as a man endowed with demented innocence.”

“This is TITUS ANDRONICUS played for laughs,” wrote Michael Billington in the Guardian, who said, “Aidan Turner is terrific in this shocking comedy.” A sentiment shared by all.
I met Aidan on a quiet Thursday afternoon, before the run started, as he was leaving the theatre for a brief break from final preparations. We were able to have a very pleasant, uninterrupted chat as he signed this rehearsal rendering, prior to the POLDARK and HOBBIT hoards descending once the season got underway.

Drawing: Monica Seles

Autographed drawing of tennis player Monica Seles

While Monica Seles is regarded as one of the greatest female tennis players of all time, many believe she had the potential to be the most accomplished in the sport, if it wasn’t for the stabbing that took place at the height of her career that kept her out of the tour for two years.

Born and raised in Yugoslavia from Hungarian descent, Monica started playing tennis at the age of five, coached by her father, a professional cartoonist, who used to drew her pictures to make the lessons fun. She turned professional in May 1989 at the age of 15 and won her first Grand Slam, the French Open, the following year, the youngest ever to win at Roland Garros. It was a tournament she would win for three consecutive years, adding three Australian and two US titles to collect 8 Grand Slams before the age of twenty, becoming the year end Number 1 in 1991 and 1992.

On April 1993, while playing in Hamburg, a deranged fan of Stefi Graf (her main rival at the time) rushed onto the court and stabbed her in the back with a 9 inch knife. While the wound healed relatively quickly, it would be two years before she returned playing tennis again and was unable to consistently find her best form.

Monica did however win her fourth Australian Open in 1996 and a Bronze medal in the singles at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. She played her last professional match at the 2003 French Open, but officially retired in 2008.

Monica was a special guest at the WTA pre-Wimbledon ‘Tennis On The Thames’ event on London’s Southbank a few weeks ago, where she signed my drawing.

Drawing: Miriam Margoyles in Madame Rubinstein

Autographed drawing of Miriam Margoyles in Madame Rubinstein at the Park Theatre in London

In May last year the irresistible BAFTA Award-winning actress Miriam Margoyles returned to the London stage in the titular role of Jez Bond’s MADAME RUBINSTEIN at the Park Theatre. The play centres around the intense rivalry between 20th century cosmetic giants Helena Rubinstein and Elizabeth Arden (played by Frances Barber). Coincidently, it was also the subject of WAR PAINT, a simultaneous production on Broadway with Patti LuPone and Christine Ebersole.

I last saw Miriam as Nell in Samuel Beckett’s ENDGAME at the Duchess Theatre in 2009. Three years earlier she was one of the original cast members of the musical WICKED, as Madame Morrible at the Apollo and subsequently at the George Gershwin Theatre on Broadway. HARRY POTTER fans will know her as Professor Pomona Sprout. I’m a big fan of her THE REAL MARIGOLD HOTEL travel doco series… and told her so.

Her ‘comic tour de force’ in MADAME RUBINSTEIN was described by Alun Hood in his WhatsOnStage review. “Margoyles plays Rubinstein-so imperious that even her own children call her ‘Madame’-to the absolute hilt: she’s brash, amoral, manipulative, paranoid, rude, crazy: a bejewelled gorgon in a pillar box red dress. She is also, in Margoyles’ endlessly skilled hands, utterly irresistible.”

Miriam is a humanitarian advocate for many causes. I managed to catch-up with her when she arrived at the Royal Society of Medicine last Friday evening for The Silver Line’s fundraising event, which operates a 24 hour helpline for older people, where she signed my Madame R sketch.

Drawing: David Haig in Pressure

Autographed drawing of David Haig in Pressure at the Ambassadors Theatre on London's West End

It’s been called the most important weather forecast of all time. In June 1944, over 150,000 Allied troops would land on five sites in France, in what would prove to be one of the most decisive actions of WWll. After months of meticulous planning, ‘Operation Overlord’ was set to go, but there was one crucial aspect which the military commanders couldn’t control: the weather.

It’s the focus of the wartime drama PRESSURE, written by Olivier Award winner David Haig. The play is set over a 72-hour period leading up to the launch of the operation. Chief meteorologist, Group Captain James Stagg, played by David is the weather adviser to the overall commander General Dwight Eisenhower. Despite a heatwave, Stagg calculates the weather will turn nasty at the time the invasion is scheduled, risking the lives of thousands. This is contrary to the prediction of American celebrity weatherman, Colonel Irving Krick. Stagg has to convince Eisenhower that he is right, delaying the operation by a week, waiting for the weather to improve.

After premiering at Edinburgh’s Lyceum Theatre in May 2014 to critical acclaim and transferring to the Chichester Festival Theatre at the end of the same month, the original production has now been revived at the West End’s Ambassador Theatre, coinciding with the 74th anniversary of the D-Day landings.

The always affable David, signed my sketch last month at the Ambassadors stage door.

Drawing: Dame Hilary Mantel

Autographed drawing of author Hilary Mantel

The final signed sketch in this week’s writers series is Dame Hilary Mantel, who I was lucky to meet after her second appearance at the Man Booker 50 Series, the weekend long festival dedicated to the 50th anniversary of the Man Booker Prize at various venues in London’s Southbank Centre. Dame Hilary has won the Booker twice-the first British author and only woman to win it more than once.

In 2009 WOLF HALL, the fictional account of Thomas Cromwell’s rapid rise to power the court of Henry VIII collected the award and three years later the sequel to the dark Tudor tale, BRING UP THE BODIES repeated the win.

The third instalment in the Cromwell trilogy, THE MIRROR AND THE LIGHT is in progress. Described by the judges as an “extraordinary piece of storytelling”, this very modern novel, which happens to be set in the 16th Century, the 650 page WOLF HALL was also one of the five shortlisted books for the special one-off Golden Man Booker anniversary prize, to select the best work of fiction over the five decades of Britain’s most prestigious literary accolade.

I managed to catch Dame Hilary as she left the Purcell Room on Saturday afternoon , where she signed this quick portrait sketch for me.

Drawing: Christopher Hampton

Autographed drawing of writer Chris Hampton

I had always missed Christopher Hampton at various play openings and other events around London over the past few years. He was someone I really wanted to meet. When I heard he was part of the ‘Page to Screen’ panel at last weekend’s Man Booker 50 festival I quickly did this sketch and made my way to the Queen Elizabeth Hall on London’s Southbank on Saturday afternoon. Although Chris has not won a Booker Prize, he has pretty much won everything else.

The celebrated British playwright, screenwriter and translator’s 1985 play of seduction and revenge, LES LIAISONS DANGEREUSES, adapted from the 1782 novel of the same name by Pierce Choderlos de Laclos, won the Olivier Award for Best New Play after its run at The Pit theatre in the Barbican and a Tony nomination when it transferred to Broadway’s Music Box Theatre.

The film version, DANGEROUS LIAISONS directed by Stephen Frears collected multiple awards. Chris won both the Oscar and the BAFTA as well as the London Critics’ Circle and the Writers Guild of America Awards for his screenplay adaption. In 1995 he won two Tony Awards; Best Original Score and Best Book of a Musical; for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s SUNSET BOULEVARD.

The stage door at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, or as the Southbank Centre people like to call it, the ‘Artists’ Entrance’ is tucked away around the back of the venue between it and the British Film Institute in a concrete canyon opposite a multi-storied car park. A tricky place to find, as an acclaimed writer found out. However, for stalkers armed with sharpies, it’s an essential part of our MO.

When I saw a person who looked lost and more importantly, looked like my drawing, I was able to use my sense of direction for mutual gain, assisting Chris to the said entrance in return for signing the said rendering. Reciprocity is always a good thing in this business… plus we had a nice chat as I helped him successfully complete his journey.