Drawing: Feliciano Lopez

Autographed drawing of tennis player Feliciano Lopez

While his doubles partner Sir Andy Murray was grabbing the headlines for a successful return to competitive tennis after career-saving surgery five months ago, Feliciano Lopez completed a remarkable double winning both titles at the prestigious Queen’s Club in London on Sunday. Initially ranked outside the top 100 in the ATP rankings, the 37 year old Spaniard became the first wild card entry to lift the singles trophy since Pete Sampras in 1999 and the first player to claim the Queen’s ‘double’ since Mark Philippoussis in 1977.

As a consequence he has leapfrogged a massive 60 places to #53 in the world. He would have also become the oldest player ever to win a grass court event in the open era, but a certain Roger Federer, who is one month older secured his tenth Halle title earlier in the day. Given the inclement English weather earlier in the week, the disrupted schedule meant playing catch-up and multiple games in the same day. In Feliciano’s case it was a remarkable act of endurance.

On Saturday he played five-hours of gruelling tennis to reach the two finals. After beating rising star Felix Auger-Aliassime in the singles semi, he took a 12 minute shower and was back on court with Andy to wrap up their suspended quarter finals doubles clash against British pair Dan Evans and Ken Skupski, before taking on the highly-fancied Henri Kontinen and John Peers, which needed a championship tie-break to decide it. The following day, Feliciano beat Giles Simon in the singles and completed Sir Andy’s fairytale comeback, beating Joe Salisbury and Rajeev Ram in another tie-breaker to enter the history books.

Feliciano kindly signed this drawing for me when he arrived at the club on Saturday morning. I didn’t need to state the obvious and mention it was going to be a very busy day for him…but I did.

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Drawing: Roberto Alagna

Autographed drawing of tenor Roberto Alagna

One of the world’s most beloved tenors, Roberto Alagna returned to London’s Royal Opera house for his 100th Covent Garden appearance in the title role of Giordano’s greatest opera, ANDREA CHENIER. Born in the Parisian suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois fifty-six years ago to Sillian parents, Roberto was discovered singing for tips in a pizzeria. Largely self-taught, he switched to opera and made his professional debut as Alfredo Germont in LA TRAVIATA with the Glyndebourne touring company, a role he would sing more than 150 times throughout his illustrious career.

He won the Luciano Pavarotti International Voice completion in 1988, making his Royal Opera debut in 1992 as Rodolfo in LA BOMEME and has been a popular regular ever since. In 1995 Roberto won the Olivier Award for his performance as Romeo in ROMEO ET JULIETTE, which catapulted him to International prominence. He was appointed a chevalier de la legion d’honueur in 2008.

I left this drawing at the ROH, of Roberto as Don Jose in the Metropolitan Opera’s most recent production of Bizet’s CARMEN, which he kindly signed and returned.

Drawing: Kenneth Lonergan

Autographed drawing of writer Kenneth Lonergan

American film director, screenwriter and playwright Kenneth Lonergan was in London recently, visiting Wyndham’s theatre where his play THE STARRY MESSENGER opened last month with Matthew Broderick and Elizabeth McGovern. The original 2009 off-Broadway production also featured Matthew and Kenneth’s wife, J.Smith-Cameron.
Kenneth’s playwriting prowess came to prominence in 1996 with THIS IS OUR YOUTH, followed by THE WAVERLY GALLERY three years later, earning him a Pulitzer Prize nomination and LOBBY HERO in 2002. All three plays collected Tony Award nominations for their respective revivals.

Kenneth’s most notable film work is YOU CAN COUNT ON ME (2000) and MANCHESTER BY THE SEA (2016), both written and directed by him and both included Matthew in their cast. He received Academy Award Best Original Screenplay nominations the two films, collecting the Oscar for the later. He also won the BAFTA Award. David Fear, writing in Rolling Stone said that MANCHESTER proved Kenneth was “practically peerless in portraying loss as a living, breathing thing without resorting to the vocabulary of griefporn.” In 2002 he co-wrote Martin Scorsese’s GANGS OF NEW YORK (2002), once again receiving Academy recognition with an Original Screenplay nomination.

It was great to meet Kenneth at Wyndham’s Theatre, where he kindly signed my drawing.

Drawing: Alex Kingston in Macbeth

Autographed drawing of actress Alex Kingston

Alex Kingston made her New York stage debut as Lady Macbeth opposite Kenneth Branagh in Shakespeare’s ‘Scottish play’ at the cavernous Park Avenue Armoury in June 2014. Co-directed by Rob Ashford and Sir Kenneth, this immersive production transferred from a limited run at the deconsecrated St Peter’s church as one of the highlights of the Manchester International Festival a year earlier. “Branagh is expertly matched by Alex Kingston”, wrote Dominic Cavendish in his Telegraph review. “Lady Macbeth – an electrifying, highly wrought Alex Kingston” was The Stage’s Michael Coveney’s summation of her acclaimed performance. The production was also screened in cinemas throughout the UK and internationally as part of the National Theatre Live programme.

Alex’s notable television work includes her title role in the miniseries THE FORTUNES AND MISFORTUNES OF MOLL FLANDERS in 1996, for which she received a BAFTA nomination and her portrayal of British surgeon Elizabeth Corday in the US medical drama ER for seven seasons between 1997-2004, returning for the final season in 2009 for two episodes, winning two SAG Awards as part of the ensemble cast. She played River Song, the Time Lord’s wife in DOCTOR WHO from 2008-2015.

Alex returned to the London stage earlier this year to play Sherri Rosen-Mason, the head of admissions at a sixth-form college in Joshua Harmon’s successful Broadway play ADMISSIONS at London’s Trafalgar Studios, where she signed my drawing.

Drawing: Sidney Poitier

Autographed drawing of actor Sidney Poitier

I was super pleased to receive this back in the mail last week. Sidney Poitier, or should I say Sir Sidney is one of my all-time favourite people.

His parents were farmers on Cat Island in the central Bahamas, which was then a British colony. Sidney was born in Miami, Florida, while they were visiting to sell their produce. He was two months premature and not expected to live. But live he certainly did, celebrating his 92nd birthday this year.

In 1964 he became the first African-American to win the Academy Award for Best Actor, for his role as itinerant worker Homer Smith in LILIES OF THE FIELD. He also won a Golden Globe. It was his second Oscar nomination, having received recognition six years earlier for his portrayal of Noah Cullen in THE DEFIANT ONES, for which he won the BAFTA. His groundbreaking work continued in 1967 with three roles, Mark Thackeray in TO SIR, WITH LOVE, Dr. John Wade Prentice in GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER and Detective Virgil Tibbs in my personal favourite, IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT, that all dealt with issues of race and race relations.

Both the Academy of Motion Pictures, Arts and Sciences and the British Academy presented him with an Honorary Oscar and a Fellowship respectively. Sidney has also directed nine films, including the box-office hit STIR CRAZY. Sir Sidney was knighted in 1974, and from 1997-2007 he was the Bahamian Ambassador to Japan. In 2009, President Barack Obama presented him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest US civilian honour.

Yes, indeed, super, super pleased he signed and returned my drawing.

Drawing: Wendell Pierce in Death of a Salesman

Autographed drawing of Wendell Pierce in Death of a Salesman at The Young Vic Theatre

With over 30 films, 50 TV shows and dozens of theatre productions to his name, distinguished American actor Wendell Pierce makes his London stage debut as the tragic anti-hero Willy Loman in the reimagined revival of Arthur Miller’s 1949 Pulitzer Prize-winning masterwork DEATH OF A SALESMAN at the Young Vic, co-directed by Marianne Elliot and her long-term associate Miranda Cromwell.

It’s the story of an ageing salesman, who has invested so much time in the American dream he regards failure as a mortal sin. The play addresses the loss of identity and a man’s inability to accept changes within himself and society. To freshen the notion of the American dream as a nightmare and that much further away, the lower middle class Loman family are African-American, living a precarious existence in 1940’s Brooklyn. “We’re not changing a word (of the text) but it is amazing how you hear it differently,” said Marianne.

The New Orleans-born and bred Wendell, who plays Willy opposite the magnificent Sharon D. Clarke said it was ‘a honour and a milestone’. In his interview with Metro he commented, “This is not ‘colour blind’ casting, but ‘very specific casting’, that heightens the sense of the obstacles that are placed in front of Willy, his wife Linda and his sons Biff and Happy. Particular moments sting in new ways.”

It’s not the first staging of the play to shift ethnicity. Charles S. Dutton played Willy in 2009 at Yale Repertory and Don Warrington in the Manchester production last year. TimeOut’s Andrzej Lukowski writes, “This brilliantly reimagined take on the Arthur Miller classic is powered by a phenomenal black-led cast…that unquestionably finds new depths to the play.” In his Guardian review, Michael Billington said, “We’ve seen many good productions of DEATH OF A SALESMAN over the years, this one, mixing the socially specific and the dreamily phantasmagoric depicts the duality at the heart of Miller’s memory-play with exceptional clarity,” The sold-out production has been extended by two weeks.

Wendell will be familiar to screen viewers as the high-powered attorney Robert Zane in SUITS, detective Bunk Moreland in THE WIRE and trombonist Antoine Batiste in TREME on television and in films such as MALCOLM X and SELMA. He also produced the Broadway production of CLYBOURNE PARK which collected four Tony nominations, winning Best New Play.

Wendell signed this rehearsal sketch when he arrived for a Saturday matinee at the Young Vic a couple of weeks ago.

Drawing: Simon Russell Beale, Adam Godley and Ben Miles in The Lehman Trilogy

Autographed drawing of Simon Russell Beale, Adam Godley and Ben Miles in The Lehman Trilogy at the Piccadilly Theatre on London's West End

Sam Mendes has always directed exceptional stage productions. His latest, THE LEHMAN TRILOGY is no exception. Italian dramatist Stefano Massini’s three act/three-actor play is an astonishing piece of storytelling about three German-Jewish immigrants who would come to define America. It charts three generations of the Lehman family, who establish one of the world’s biggest financial corporations in 1844 through to it’s spectacular collapse and bankruptcy in 2008, triggering the largest financial crisis in history. Adapted by the National Theatre’s deputy artistic director Ben Power, THE LEHMAN TRILOGY completed a sell-out season on the Lyttelton stage last July, followed by a limited run at the New York’s Park Avenue Armoury earlier this year, before returning to London’s West End and the Piccadilly Theatre until August.

Three remarkable actors -the ‘black-clad trio-not only play the three founding brothers, but Russell Simon Beale as Henry, Ben Miles as Emanuel and Adam Godley as Mayer also portray their children and grandchildren and various minor characters spanning 164 years. All three were nominated for this years Best Actor Olivier Award, as was Sam for his direction.

Andrzej Lukowski’s TimeOut review said that their ‘virtuosic performances’ turn “a play that might have come across as a rather a dry history lesson into a mostly electrifying one.”

Simon, Adam and Ben kindly signed my rehearsal drawing of them during the first week of their Piccadilly run.