Drawing: Laurie Kynaston, Amanda Abbington, John Light and Amaka Okafor in The Son

Autographed drawing of Laurie Kynaston, Amanda Abington, John Light and Amaka Okafor in The Son at London's Kiln Theatre

French playwrighting phenomenon Florian Zeller’s frightening tale of teen depression, THE SON made its UK debut at London’s Kiln Theatre in February with a sold-out run before transferring to the Duke of York’s in the West End for a ten-week season. Directed by Michael Longhurst and translated by Christopher Hampton this “immaculate production” (The Guardian’s Michael Billington) completes the French writer’s trilogy of plays; THE FATHER, focused on aged dementia and THE MOTHER on middle-aged psychosis.

THE SON is “the most powerful of all,” according to Ann Treneman in her five-star review in The Times, “superbly acted with a rhythm that keeps you on the edge of your seat.”

After skipping school and self-harming, 17 year-old Nicolas (Laurie Kynaston) moves out of his mother (Amanda Abbington) Anne’s house to live with his father Pierre (John Light) and Pierre’s lover Sofia (Amaka Okafor) and their new baby. In his Evening Standard review, Nick Curtis called the play an “unnerving and beautifully sensitive drama… a lacerating examination of the effect of a son’s mental illness has on his divorced parents.”

The four cast members signed my drawing at the theatre a few weeks ago as they arrived for a Saturday matinee.

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Drawing: Colm Wilkinson in Les Miserables and The Phantom of the Opera

Autographed drawing of actor Colm Wilkinson in Les Miserables and The Phantom of the Opera

Irish-born tenor and actor Colm Wilkinson was voted by a Rolling Stone readers’ poll as one of the five greatest singers ever. He originated the lead role of Jean Valjean in LES MISERABLES for both the West End and Broadway productions for which he received both an Olivier and Tony Award nomination and the title role for THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA for Andrew Lloyd Webber at the Sydmonton Festival and the Canadian production. He also represented Ireland in the Eurovision Song Contest, placing fifth singing “Born to Sing” in 1978.

After collaborating with Andrew in the Dublin production of JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR, playing the role of Judas Iscariot in 1972, they joined forces again in 1985 at the Sydmonton workshop in a deconsecrated 16th century chapel on the grounds of Lord Lloyd Webber’s country estate in Hampshire, where he would perform new works for a private audiences.

Colm originated the title role for THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, and was offered it for the West End debut, but choose to play Jean Valjean in LES MISERABLES instead, opening initially at the Barbican Centre in October 1985, before transferring to the Palace Theatre. He reprised the role for the Broadway premiere at the Broadway Theatre in 1987. Two years later he and his family relocated to Toronto for the Phantom role in the original Canadian production, which he would play for four and a half years. He did return to play Jean Valjean at the Prince of Wales Theatre in Toronto in 1998-99.

He also reprised the role for the 10th Anniversary concert at the Royal Albert Hall in 1995 and was a special guest at the 25th Anniversary at London’s 02 Arena in 2010. A year later he was part of the 25th Anniversary celebrations of THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA at the Royal Albert Hall alongside a number of former global Phantoms. In the 2012 film version of LES MISERABLES, Colm played the Bishop of Digne, winning the National Board of Review Award and a Screen Actors Guild Award nomination as part of the ensemble cast.

While Colm and his family predominately live in Canada (he became a Canadian citizen in 2000), he does have a house back in Ireland and I was fortunate to get my sketch to him on a recent return home, which he kindly dedicated, signed and returned to me.

Drawing: Hayley Atwell as Jenny in Dry Powder

Autographed drawing of Hayley Atwell as Jenny in Dry Powder at the Hampstead Theatre in London

While appearing in the most successful film of all time, Marvel’s AVENGERS:ENDGAME, reprising the role of Agent Peggy Carter, which she played in 2011 in the superhero film CAPTAIN AMERICA:THE FIRST AVENGER, Hayley Atwell appeared in three productions on the London stage.

The first, Sarah Burgess’s cut-throat comedy DRY POWDER at the Hampstead Theatre ran in the early Spring of 2018. Haley played the ‘acid-tongued, empathy-free Jenny alongside Tom Riley’s Seth as partners in a New York private equity firm reeling from a PR disaster caused by their boss. For the uninitiated ‘dry powder’ means the remaining capital in a private equity fund… if that helps. In his Financial Times review Ian Shuttleworth called Haley “the sharpest knife in the box.”

Later in the year she and Jack Lowden alternated lead roles in Josie Rourke‘s reimagined production of Shakespeare’s MEASURE FOR MEASURE, before her portrayal as the strident Rebecca West in Henrik Ibsen’s ROSERSHOLM at the Duke of York’s in the summer.

She kindly signed my DRY POWDER sketch at the Duke of York’s during the ROSERSHOLM run.

Drawing: Matthew Broderick and Elizabeth McGovern in The Starry Messenger

Autographed drawing of Matthew Broderick and Elizabeth McGovern in The Starry Messenger

Kenneth Lonergan’s tale of astronomy and midlife misery THE STARRY MESSENGER completed its British premiere at Wyndham’s Theatre in London’s West End over the summer. It featured Broadway royalty and double Tony winner Matthew Broderick and Oscar, Emmy and Golden Globe nominee Elizabeth McGovern.

Kenneth, who won the Best Original Screenplay Academy Award for his 2016 film MANCHESTER BY THE SEA, wrote the play specifically for Matthew, a long-time friend, who played the lead role ten years ago in the original off-Broadway production. In his West End debut he reprised his role as Mark Williams, a disgruntled astronomer who teaches the subject at the Hayden Planetarium in New York City, where his life is spiralling out of control and his marriage is on the rocks.

Elizabeth played his anxious wife Anne. In his Independent Review, Paul Taylor wrote, “The actors play characters that range from laugh-out-loud funny to twisty, wrong-footed ambivalence.”

Both Matthew and Elizabeth kindly signed my sketch based on early publicity images during rehearsals in early May

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: 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 Simon Russell 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.

Drawing: Olivia Williams in Waste

Autographed drawing of Olivia Williams in Waste at the National Theatre in London

“Olivia Williams steals the show,” was the headline for Dominic Cavendish’s review of WASTE at the National Theatre’s Lyttelton stage in late 2015.

Writer Harley Granville Barker’s 1907 version of his play was banned by the Lord Chamberlain, but was rewritten twenty years later and finally staged in public at the Westminster Theatre in 1936. The story is a combination of the three big themes, sex, politics and religion. Ambitious and independent politician Henry Trebell plans to introduce legislation to disestablish the Church of England and distribute its huge wealth to education. But, after election victory and success almost assured he suffers a fall from grace, impregnating the wife of a former Irish Republican, Amy O’Connell, who dies after a botched abortion. Roger Michell’s revival used the 1927 version, featuring Charles Edwards as Henry Trebell and Olivia Williams as Amy O’Connell.

“The night’s laurels belong, in the end, to Williams’s cloche-hatted anti-heroine whose tearful, vituperative, revulsion-filled showdown with Trebell has you on the edge of your seat,” concluded Dominic’s review.

After graduating with an English Lit degree from Cambridge University, Olivia studied drama at the Bristol Old Vic, followed by three years with the Royal Shakespeare Company. She made her film debut in 1997 alongside Kevin Costner in THE POSTMAN and has since appeared in such notable productions as THE SIXTH SENCE and AN EDUCTION, receiving critical acclaim and awards recognition in 2010 for her performance in Roman Polanski’s THE GHOST WRITER.

She is currently filming Florian Zeller’s movie version of his hit play THE FATHER with Anthony Hopkins and Olivia Colman, which is also being directed by the French playwright.

Olivia returned to the Lyttelton stage this spring to play Orgon’s wife Elmire in Moliere’s TARTUFFE, where she signed my sketch.

Drawing: Robert Bathurst in Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell

“I believe that no one should go back to work after lunch, but for some unfortunate people it’s in the middle of the working day.” One of the many satirical commentaries by the infamous British scribe and soak Jeffrey Bernard, often described as the ‘Soho Tom Sawyer.’

He would wake up, smoke in bed for half an hour, and then move to his desk in an attempt to write, his creative flow lubricated with orange juice, topped with vodka, before heading to a place he called his ‘office’ which was a pub that opened precisely at 11am. It was and still is one of London’s great public houses, The Coach & Horses in Greek Street in London’s Soho, where fellow journo and frequenter Keith Waterhouse was inspired to write his hit West End play JEFFREY BERNARD IS UNWELL, which imagines the writer locked in the pub overnight, allowing him plenty of time to reflect on life.

It premiered at the Apollo Theatre in Shaftesbury Avenue with the equally legendary Peter O’Toole, who won an Olivier Award for his portrayal, with a sold-out revival at the Old Vic ten years later. Now a unique and immersive production is being staged inside the actual venue itself, complete with the traditional Saturday night ‘lock-ins’, with Robert Bathurst performing a trimmed, one-hour version.

It’s a collaboration between the pub’s independent landlord Alastair Choat, director Jame Hiller and Defibrillator Theatre to not only celebrate the 30th anniversary of the play, but to highlight the opposition of this independent establishment to a big pub chain takeover. A petition is also circulating. The title is taken from the one-line apology that would be published in the Spectator in the 1970’s and 80’s on the occasions that he was unable to complete his weekly ‘Low Life’ column – a euphemism for ‘pissed again.’ The column chronicled his debauched days and nights with, in his own words, ” a place full of poets, painters, prostitutes, bookmakers, runners, bohemians, bums, cafe philosophers, crooks and cranks.” The column was described by Jonathan Meades as a “weekly suicide note.”

Jeffrey was introduced to the ‘Soho set’ at an early age in the 1940’s and as he said, “never looked forward.” In later life, he wrote, “I’m not well, I’m fucking dying,” which he did, at home, from renal failure in 1997, after refusing dialysis treatment.

While reading law at Pembroke College, Cambridge, Robert joined the infamous Cambridge Footlights Group and, after graduating began a successful acting career. His professional stage debut was in Michael Frayn’s NOISES OFF at the Savoy Theatre in 1983, before joining the NationalTheatre. TV viewers will be familiar with his roles as David Marsden in the popular comedy drama COLD FEET and Sir Anthony Strallen in DOWNTON ABBEY. He joins an illustrious line of actors, who have played the part of Jeffrey Bernard, that include Peter, Tom Conti, Dennis Waterman, James Bolam, Robert Powell and the late Sir John Hurt. He kindly signed this drawing for me after last Tuesday’s performance at The Coach & Horses.