Drawing: Fanny Ardant

Autographed drawing of actress Fanny Ardant

While my physical ‘stalking’ at stage doors and events in London came to an abrupt halt in March – the 14th to be precise – due to a you-know-what, the mail has continued to be delivered, albeit reduced, but a signed treasure arrived recently, a sketch I sent to one of France’s most admired actresses, Fanny Ardant, back in 2009.

More than a movie star, Fanny was part of cinema history, the muse and companion of the great French new wave director Francois Truffaut during the early 1980’s, before his early death. Fluent in English and Italian, she has appeared in more than eighty motion pictures since 1976, including Hollywood and British films, thirty theatre productions and twenty TV dramas. She has also become an acclaimed director and screenwriter.

At this year’s Cesar Awards in Paris, a couple of weeks before France went into lockdown for the aforementioned you-know-what, Fanny won her second Cesar for her supporting portrayal of Marianne in the romantic comedy-drama LA BELLE EPOQUE, having previously won for Best Actress in 1997, for her comedic role of Eva, the gay bar manager in PEPALE DOUCE. She has also been nominated for two Moliere theatre awards. Last year Fanny directed the opera LADY MACBETH OF MTSENSK at the Greek National Opera.

The sketch, drawn in my fine black biro style, prior to the 4B pencil take over, was accompanied by a signed photo. It took eleven years, but well worth the wait.

Autographed photo of Fanny Ardant

Drawing: Roddy Doyle

Autographed drawing of writer Roddy Doyle

With eleven novels, two collections of stories, a memoir of his parents, eight children’s books, a number of plays and screenplays and an opera translation, Roddy Doyle is firmly established as one of Ireland’s best-loved writers. Described as ‘an entertaining evening of sprawling conversation’, his UK and Ireland speaking tour arrived at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre on London’s Southbank just days before the coronavirus lockdown.

The website provided a nice, concise summary: “From THE COMMITTMENTS to THE GUTS there’s no mistaking the rich humour, authentic dialogue and contemporary crossover of Roddy’s writing with a knack for perfectly and intimately portraying everyday Irish life in a remarkably concise form of prose.”

Initially his first three novels were written while he worked as an English and Geography teacher. THE COMMITMENTS, set in Northside, Dublin was published in 1987. It tells the story of Jimmy Rabbitte, a young music fanatic who assembles a group of working class youths to form a soul band named ‘The Commitments’. Roddy wrote the screenplay for the 1991 film version with established comedy duo Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais, winning a BAFTA for Best Adapted Screenplay. The acclaimed musical-comedy-drama, directed by Alan Parker has achieved cult status. From 2013-2015, a stage version played the West End at the Palace Theatre.

THE COMMITMENTS was the first of The Barrytown Trilogy series, followed by the equally successful THE SNAPPER (1990) and THE VAN (1991). Both have been adapted for the screen. In 1993 Roddy became a full time writer. That year his novel, PADDY CLARKE HA HA HA, looking at Dublin life in 1968 from the perspective of a ten-year-old boy, won the Booker Prize.

I met Roddy at his signing session after the March speaking event, where he kindly autographed my portrait sketch.

Drawing: Bjorn Ulvaeus

Autographed drawing of Bjorn Ulvaeus from Abba

With the cancellation of this year’s Eurovision Song Contest, which was to have taken place over the weekend in Rotterdam, the BBC aired a tribute substitute EUROVISION: COME TOGETHER, hosted by Graham Norton and featuring a shortlist of 19 songs from the past 65 years with viewers asked to vote for their favourite. ABBA’s ‘Waterloo’, a song about the joys of surrendering to love, was declared the viewers favourite of all time.

Written by the Swedish supergroup’s two B’s – Bjorn Ulvaeus and Benny Anderson – with lyrics by Stig Anderson, it won the 1974 Eurovision contest held in Brighton, topping the charts in several countries, selling six million copies and launching ABBA’s rapid rise to become one of the most popular international group ever. The previous year they were third with ‘Ring, Ring’.

At the 50th Anniversary of Eurovision in 2005, ‘Waterloo’ was also declared the best song in the competition’s history. After the group split in 1982, it was supposed to be a temporary break, said Benny in a recent interview, but both he and Bjorn were persuaded by Sir Tim Rice to get involved in musical theatre and didn’t see the immediate need to go back to ABBA. They have written the music for two of the most successful and acclaimed West End and Broadway productions, CHESS (1984), the Cold War allegory with Sir Tim and MAMMA MIA! (1999), the jukebox musical written by Catherine Johnson and based on Bjorn and Benny’s backlog of ABBA hits. The title is from their 1975 chart topper.

After Saturday’s tribute show, the BBC joined other European broadcasters to present EUROVISION: EUROPE SHINE A LIGHT, honouring the 41 songs that would have competed in this year’s contest, interviewing, via satellite a host of past winners including Bjorn, who said that the Eurovision celebration “allows you to escape and be happy and even forget about the coronavirus for a little while.”

Appropriately he was a guest on Graham Norton’s BBC Radio 2 show at in September, last year, where he signed this quick portrait sketch for me as he was leaving the studios at Wogan House in London.

Drawing: Mike Figgis

Autographed drawing of filmmaker Mike Figgis

One of the most innovative filmmakers in the business is Mike Figgis, the British director, screenwriter, musician and composer. After initially working in theatre as a director and performer he made his feature film directorial debut with the neo-noir thriller STORMY MONDAY in 1988 featuring Sean Bean, Tommy Lee Jones, Sting and Melanie Griffith. Six years later he directed Terrance Rattigan’s THE BROWNING VERSION based on Terrance Rattigan’s 1948 play with Albert Finney in the lead role. It was nominated for the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival and a BAFTA for Mike’s screenplay.

The following year he received two Academy Award nominations for Direction and Adapted Screenplay for the romantic drama LEAVING LAS VEGAS. Nicolas Cage starred as a suicidal alcoholic who moves to Las Vegas to drink himself to death after being fired from his LA law firm. It was based on the semi-biographical novel by John O’Brien, who shot himself two weeks after signing away the movie rights. His father said the novel was his suicide note. The low budget film was shot on 16mm with Mike composing his own musical score. Nicolas loved working with the smaller camera, said it was less intimidating and allowed the actors give more relaxed, nuanced performances. He won the Best Actor Oscar.

TIMECODE (2000) is an experimental film with a ensemble cast that included Salam Hayek, Stellen Skardgard and Holly Hunter. Four continuous 93 min hand-held takes were filmed simultaneously by four cameramen beginning at 3pm on 19 November in 1999 with the cast improvising, using a predetermined structure. It follows a group of people in an LA office, prepping a movie. The screen was divided into quarters to show each take.

Since 2008 Mike has been Professor of Film Studies at the European Film School, teaching summer seminars in Saas-Fee in Switzerland. He is also an Associate at the London Film School.

Mike signed and returned my quick portrait sketch after I sent it to his London-based production company, Red Herring.

David Mitchell in Upstart Crow

Autographed drawing of David Mitchell in Upstart Crow in the Gielgud Theatre on London's West End

Ben Elton’s BBC TV Blackadder-esque Shakespearean sitcom UPSTART CROW first screened in May 2016 to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the Bard’s death. In early February this year the stage version – or as Ben puts it, “an entirely original excursion, not a TV adaption,” opened at London’s Gielgud Theatre, directed by Sean Foley, with BAFTA- winner, David Mitchell reprising his lead role. The derogatory title refers to a critique of Shakespeare by his arch-rival Robert Greene, “an upstart crow, beautified with feathers.”

It is set in 1605, with Shakespeare, depressed after the death of his son Hamnet, needing to come up with a successful new play. In his LondonTheatre review Jack Hudson said that the TV series “has made an easy transition to critical acclaim in the West End. The Show is a hit-packed with intelligent, textured humour, acute historical insight, barbed wit and the welcome inclusion of a break-dancing bear.” It has been nominated for an Olivier Award for Best Entertainment or Comedy Play.

David kindly signed my Bard sketch when he arrived at the Gielgud for the final Saturday matinee before the production shut down due to the Covid-19 lockdown.

Drawing: Roger Deakins

Autographed drawing of cinematographer Roger Deakins

At one of the many crossroads earlier in my life, I entertained the notion of following a path to cinematography, influenced by the wonderful work of legendary lensman such as Haskell Wexler, Conrad Hall, Freddie Young, Vilmos Zsigmond, Gordon Willis and Sven Nyvist. I even subscribed to ‘American Cinematograper’, which proved a source of inspiration for my own, less ambitious super 8 and 16mm epics.

Often cited as one of the most influential cinematographers of all time is the Englishman Roger Deakins. ‘Sight & Sound’ listed him as one of the greatest artists of light and shade in movie history. His first dramatic feature as DP was ANOTHER TIME, ANOTHER PLACE in 1983, directed by his former schoolmate Michael Radford, who he teamed up with again the following year, appropriately to shoot the film version of George Orwell’s NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR. Roger used a bleach bypass process where silver is retained in the print to give it a washed out look reflecting The celebrated author’s bleak vision. Such ingenuity would be the hallmark of his illustrious career.

In 1991 he shot BARTON FINK, the first of 12 collaborations with Joel and Ethan Coen. Three years later he received the first of his 15 Academy Award nominations was for THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION. Roger achieved a degree of notoriety, as much for his acclaimed body of work as for his surprising lack of success at the Oscars. It would take until his last two noms to win the converted gold statue, consecutively, for BLADE RUNNER 2049 in 2019 and again this year for the Sam Mendes helmed (their fourth collaboration) war film 1917, renowned for its continuous ‘single’ tracking shot – actually ‘two takes’ with a blackout just over an hour into the film, when the main protagonist Lance Corporal Will Scholfield is knocked unconscious, separating afternoon to dusk then night to dawn. He is also credited with being the Camera A Operator.

Among his many other accolades, Roger has received ten BAFTA nominations, winning five, including his Academy winning films and the Coen’s THE MAN WHO WASN’T THERE (2001), NO COUNTER FOR OLD MEN (2007) and TRUE GRIT (2010) and has won five American Society of Cinematographer Awards.

I was very pleased to catch Roger at the Corinthia Hotel in London as he left for the Royal Albert Hall to attend this year’s BAFTA Awards in early February.

Drawing: Lise Davidsen

Autographed drawing of soprano Lise Davidsen

“It’s been a long time since a singer has generated as much buzz as the Norwegian soprano,” wrote the renowned Gramophone magazine in their review of Lise Davidsen’s self-titled debut album of Strauss and Wagner songs late last year. “A name you will want to remember and a voice, once heard, you won’t forget.” She is the first operatic soprano to debut at No 1 in the UK Classical Charts. “This album only reinforces the fact that she is one of the greatest vocal talents to have emerged in recent years, if not decades,” continued the Gramophone review, who awarded her Young Artist of the Year in 2018.

The Financial Times declared her ‘the real deal’. It was not alone with the Scandinavian lyric dramatic soprano gaining universal adoration and agreement that she ‘one of the greatest voices of her generation’.

Lise shot to prominence in the summer of 2015, winning the Queen Sonia Singing Competition in her homeland, before she ‘swept the board’, collecting the three top awards at the prestigious Operalia competition in London as well as being a triple winner at Amsterdam’s Hans Gabor Belvedere Singing contest. A series of acclaimed international Opera followed. Last year she debuted with the Metropolitan Opera in New York as the young, rich lover Lisa, in Tchaikovsky’s THE QUEEN OF SPADES, with the New York Time’s Zachary Woolf writing, ” Ms Davidsen’s voice is creamy in texture, but with a silvery shimmer that gives it a penetrating spine.” Her first appearance at the Royal Opera House was in Wagner RING CYCLE in 2018, returning this year alongside Jonas Kaufmann as the free-loving, cross-dressing, husband-rescuing heroine Lenore in Beethoven’s FIDELIO. The production sold out within 24 hours.

In his Backtrack review David Karlin wrote, “Covent Garden has seen many great role debuts over the years, but I doubt there have been many with quite the level of self-assurance.” Unfortunately the season was cut short due to the Covid-19 pandemic, which included a live screening to cinemas of the final performance on 17 March. Fortunately I managed to get Lise to sign my drawing of her in the Met role before the lockdown.

Drawing: Jason Manford, Carley Stenson and Rebecca Lock in Curtains

Autographd drawing of Jason Manford, Carley Stenson and Rebecca Lock in Curtains at Wyndham's Theatre on London's West End

Kander and Ebb’s charming musical mystery comedy caper CURTAINS opened on Broadway at the Al Hirschfield Theatre in the spring of 2007 starring David Hyde Pierce as Lieutenant Frank Cioffi. Described as the ‘fun companion’ to the duos CHICAGO and CABARET, this classic whodunnit was nominated for eight Tony Awards with David winning for Leading Actor in a Musical.

The UK production, featuring comedian-singer Jason Manford in the lead role, premiered at Bromley’s Churchill Theatre last year, beginning a nationwide tour that included a belated but brief, unexpected five-week festive season filler at the Wyndham’s Theatre in London’s West End, due to the early closing of THE MAN IN THE WHITE SUITE.

Set in Boston in the 1950’s, the Broadway-bound musical ROBBIN’ HOOD OF THE OLD WEST is flopping, when its untalented star, Jessica Crenshaw is murdered during her opening night curtain call. Homicide cop and show tune-obsessed Frank is brought in to solve the case. Jason was joined by Carley Stenson as the show’s composer Georgina Hendricks, who replaces Jessica as the leading lady and Rebecca Lock as the brassy co-producer Carmen Bernstein.

The continuing UK tour was cancelled last month during its run at the Haymarket Theatre in Leicester due to the coronavirus pandemic. A recorded version streamed last week with profits going to the Funds For Freelancers charity.

Jason, Carley and Rebecca signed my montage sketch at the Wyndham’s Stage door in early January.

Drawing: Victoria Lucie and Molly Roberts in The Mousetrap

Autographed drawing of Victoria Lucie and Molly Roberts in The Mousetrap at the St Martin's Theatre on London's West End

The world’s longest continuously running play for the past 68 years, Agatha Christie’s THE MOUSTRAP in London’s West End has finally ended its ‘initial’ run. On March 16 this year, when the British Prime Minister issued a statement in response to the Covid-19 pandemic advising people to avoid gathering in theatres, cinemas, bars and restaurants, the producers appropriately ‘suspended’ all performances until 30 June at the earliest. All theatre’s are now dark until further notice after the lockdown was formalised a week later.

The timeless tale of ‘whodunnit’ by the ‘Queen of mystery’, involving a small group of people who gather at Monkswell Manor, where a murder takes place during a blizzard, opened at the Ambassadors Theatre on 25 November 1952, running until Saturday 23 March 1974, before transferring next door to St Martin’s on the Monday. It has become a West End staple ever since.

One of my recent routines is to draw the actresses playing the strange and aloof Miss Casewell and the Manor’s co-proprietor, Mollie Ralston after each cast change – in this case, Victoria Lucie and Mollie Roberts respectfully, who now have the distinction of being part of final cast of THE MOUSETRAP’s ‘initial’ run. Victoria is making her West End debut and has just finished a TV pilot for NOIR-MAN. Mollie is the Artistic Director for Poleroid Theatre and is a regular on stage and screen, receiving multiple Off West End Award nominations.

Both signed my sketch prior to the lockdown.

Drawing: Louise Fletcher as Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

Autographed drawing of Louise Fletcher as Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

Milos Forman’s 1975 film adaption of Ken Kesey’s 1962 novel ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST is regarded as one of the greatest American films of all time, and a personal favourite of mine. It won the ‘Big Five Academy Awards’, Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Adapted Screenplay.

Set in an Oregon psychiatric hospital, it centres on the rebellious and free-spirited con-man, Randle McMurphy, who is transferred from a prison work farm. Louise Fletcher collected the Oscar for her portrayal of his nemesis, the tyrannical and stereotypical ‘battle-axe’ head nurse Ratched. In her acceptance speech she thanked her deaf parents in sign language.

Nurse Ratched was named as the fifth greatest villain in film history and the second greatest villainess behind the Wicked Witch of the West in THE WIZARD OF OZ by the American Film Institute. In an interview Louise said that Ratched’s 1940’s hairstyle was “a symbol that life stopped for her a long time ago.” Louise also won the BAFTA and a Golden Globe Award.

I sent Louise this sketch to her Los Angeles agency, which she kindly signed and posted back last week.