Drawing: Chloe Rice and Natasha Roland in ‘And Then The Rodeo Burned Down’

Autographed drawing of Natasha Roland and Chloe Rice in 'And Then the Rodeo Burned Down' at London's King's Head Theatre

One of the jewels in London’s theatrical crown is the intimate King’s Head Theatre in the borough of Islington. The back room behind the bar at the King’s Head pub, previously used for a boxing ring and pool hall, became the first pub theatre since Shakespearean times. The site has been occupied by a public house since 1543 with the current building dating back to the 1800’s.

This tiny performing venue was founded by Dan Crawford in 1970 and is the oldest operating pub theatre in the UK, winning multiple awards with numerous productions transferring to mainstream West End and Broadway stages. It has launched the careers of many notable artists, including Ben Kingsley and Alan Rickman.

A gem of a show had a limited run earlier this month, the intelligent and inventive two-hander, AND THEN THE RODEO BURNED DOWN, written and performed by the longstanding New York-based double act, Chloe Rice and Natasha Roland. Originally staged for a single week at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival, this ‘vaudeville thriller’ and ‘queer cowboy Waiting for Godot’ (The Scotsman) was extended after picking up rave reviews and the winning the coveted Fringe First Award, resulting in a sell-out run. The small King’s Head stage was configured in the round with a large lone star on the floor, ready for what their website described as a “thrilling hour of clowning, physical theatre and comedy as two rodeo performers trapped in a time-loop, try and figure out why anyone would want to burn down ‘the best place in the world’, as they race against time to capture the culprit and put out the metaphorical fires and save the show.”

Two rodeo clowns-or rather, one rodeo clown and his rodeo clown shadow jockey for independence in an endearing story of ambition and self-awareness, delving into the wild west and the swaggering cowboy culture, power structures and even theatre costs when you’re “pigeonholed, lassoed by life and barely getting by,” wrote Chris Wiegand in his Guardian review. “Rice and Roland have a fantastic rapport and are equally captivating in a series of cleverly constructed, perspective- shifting encounters. They also step out of character to reflect on their own yarn and the obstacles faced by artists of minimal means-the rodeo suggesting a gilded showbiz arena not all can enter,” he said.

“From the moment the lights come up, as Dolly Parton’s ‘9-5’ starts, the audience is along for a devastating, heartwarming and surprising ride,” said ‘The Skinny’s’ critic, Rho Chung.

“Angelo Sagnelli’s inventive lighting adds a nice texture… the company of three have accomplished a truly unique piece of theatre.” 

The King’s Head theatre staff kindly allowed me to slip behind the bar and into ‘the ring’, where Chloe and Natasha were warming up for their evening performance near the end of their run in early February.  We had an very enjoyable chat while they signed my sketch.


Drawing: Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker in ‘Plaza Suite’

Autographed drawing of Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker in Plaza Suite on Broadway

The mail at the moment is about as reliable as the weather with strikes and cyber attacks, but I did receive a very pleasant surprise in the post last week when a small line sketch I did and sent a year ago to Matthew Broderick and his wife Sarah Jessica Parker when they featured in the Broadway revival of Neil Simon’s PLAZA SUITE came back signed and dedicated.

The production, which was delayed by over a year due to the Covid Pandemic and temporaily paused while both leads has respective bouts of the bug, opened last February at the Hudson Theater and extended its run to replace the lost performances, finishing on 10 July. This was the first revival of a Neil Simon play following his passing at the age of 91 in 2018.

It originally opened on Broadway at the Plymouth Theater on Valentine’s Day 1968 with George C.Scott and Maureen Stapleton, running for 1097 performances, directed by Mike Nichol, who won the Tony Award for Best Direction.The play, in three acts, is set in Suite 719 of New York’s iconic Plaza Hotel in Midtown Manhatten. Matthew and Sarah play three wildly divergent couples across three vignettes-the first, Sam and Karen Nash revisiting their honeymoon suite to rekindle their love on their 23rd anniversary, only to end in a raging argument when Karen accuses Sam of having an affair with his secretary. The second set of couples, Jesse Kiplinger, a Hollywood movie producer catches up with his old flame, Murial Tate with only one thing in mind and the final act sees parents Ray and Norma Hubley on their daughter, Mimsey’s wedding day, who has locked herself in the bathroom in a state of nervousness, refusing to attend her wedding downstairs.

This was the first time Matthew and Sarah had worked together in 20 years, since both appearing in the final weeks of the 1996 revival of HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING. Their performances were well received by both audiences and critics alike. In his Variety review, Daniel D’Addario writes, “Neil Simon’s look at three romantic couples facing down the passage of time is sharp and knowing… thank goodness for Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick, the real-life married couple bring a serious commitment to the spirit of the work, allowing their own personas to throw some meta-textual sparks without overtaking the spirit of Simon. As directed by John Benjamin Hickey, Parker and Broderick provoke, alienate and woo one another, and provide a strong argument for a playwright whose work seems next-to-impossible to subvert.”

Drawing: Tommy Emmanuel

Autographed drawing of guitarist Tommy Emmanuel

Australian-born guitar wizard, Tommy Emmanuel has never had any formal music training, but his natural ability, intrinsic sense of rhythm and charisma has led him to be regarded as the one of the greatest acoustic guitar players of all time. Eric Clapton said he is “the greatest guitar player I ever saw”. The 67 year-old received his first guitar at the age of four. He learned to play the instrument by accompanying his mother and by six he was working professionally with the touring family band. He remembers at that age hearing ‘Mr Guitar’ Chet Atkins play on the radio, which inspired him to become a musician. He wrote fan letters to the American legend and Chet wrote back, encouraging him to visit him in Nashville. He did just that one day in 1980. In 1997 they recorded a Grammy-nominated album, ‘The Dy Finger Pickers Took Over The World, when Chet was 73 years old. “That was a huge highlight of my career,” Tommy recalls. Chet called him one of just a handful of ‘Certified Guitar Players’. Tommy now has the initials CGP embossed on the neck of his guitars.

Fascinated by Chet Atkins musical style, Tommy is known for playing bass lines, chords, melodies and harmonies simultaneously using the thumb and fingers of the right hand. complex fingering technique, energetic performances and the use of percussive effects of the instrument, tapping the guitar’s sound box with his right hand. Electric guitar virtuoso Steve Vai described Tommy as, “Imagine Chet Atkins with the testosterone of Eddie Van Halen.”  His acoustic sound is alternately melodic and fiery, bringing energy and drive of rock to a good part of his playing with complex finger arrangements, most often using a thumb pick to accentuate the bass notes or to add heavy strummed chords at select points in his songs. One of my favourites is his rendition of Mason Williams ‘Classical Gas’ – check it out on YouTube. As a solo performer he never plays to a set list and uses a minimum of effects on stage. He usually completes studio recordings in one take. While he primarily plays instrumentals, Tommy does sing the occasional song, joking that it’s “a good way for me to clear the room.”

He has played Aussie-made Maton guitars for most of his career.

After the Covid-19 pandemic hiatus, Tommy eventually made it back to London, playing the Royal Festival Hall in February 2022, where he kindly signed my sketch for me.