Drawing: Alex Lawther in The Jungle

Autographed drawing of Alex Lawther in The Jungle at the Playhouse Theatre on London's West End

“The most important play in the West End.” That’s the five-star verdict of critic Dominic Cavendish in his review of THE JUNGLE. “Astonishing. The West End just got a heart transplant,” he said in the Telegraph.

Originally commissioned by the National Theatre, THE JUNGLE is a series of vivid snapshots of life, loss, fear, community and hope in the sprawling refugee camp that existed for a year near Calais on the French northern coastline, known as ‘The Jungle’.

Written by Joe Murphy and Joe Robertson, who had first-hand experience of the camp, running a pop-up theatre called ‘Good Chance’ and co-directed by Stephen Daldry and Justin Martin, the production transferred from a sold-out run at the Young Vic last year, across the river to The Playhouse Theatre.

Veteran Guardian critic Michael Billington also gave the production five stars, calling it a “priceless piece of theatre… that moved to the West End with all its vital organs in tact.”

The immersive show has transformed the traditional venue. Audiences can either sit amongst the bustling Afghan Cafe in the stalls or watch from the ‘Cliffs of Dover’ seating in the dress circle. Regarded as one of Britain’s rising stars, twenty-three year old Alex Lawther plays Sam, a ‘brattish, but terrifyingly efficient’ Etonian posh boy. He describes the Jungle as “Glastonbury, without the toilets.”

Alex will be familiar to viewers of the Netflix series THE END OF THE F***ING WORLD and was the young Alan Thuring in 2014 Oscar-nominated film THE IMITATION GAME. I caught up with him to sign this sketch on his last day with the London production, arriving for Saturday’s matinee before he starts a new project. He will rejoin the cast when it transfers to New York later in the year.

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Drawing: Jen Kirkman

Autographed drawing of comedian Jen Kirkman

Massachusetts-born, LA-based comedian, podcaster and actor Jen Kirkman brought her THE ALL NEW MATERIAL, GIRL tour to London’s Soho Theatre earlier this year for a sell-out run and returned for a one-night only gig at the Leicester Square Theatre in June.

She does regular stand-up at the Hollywood Improv and The Laugh Factory. On TV she’s a panellist on CHELSEA LATELY and narrates DRUNK HISTORY, while her podcast I SEEM FUN gets 50,000 downloads a month. Jen is a stand-up consultant and writer for Amy Sherman-Palladino’s latest hit series THE MARVELOUS MRS MAISEL, which won two Golden Globes recently and has six Emmy nominations.

In a Guardian interview earlier this year she said, “My fan base tends to be, for want of a better phrase, on the punk-rock side of life, feminists, lesbians, guys who wear nail polish, mums who are really fun and like to drink a lot.” She also said the audiences are different, depending on the day. “Monday’s are more responsive, anyone going out on a Monday must be a die-hard fan. Whereas on Fridays, people have worked all week, they’re tired and angry… and drinking. Friday’s are the toughest, weird energy. Saturday’s are just rowdy, so if you can combine the loyalty of Monday with the rowdiness of Saturday that would be ideal.”

Jen signed my drawing for me at her Leicester Square one show only on 22 June. It was a Friday.

Drawing: Tommy Steele in The Glenn Miller Story and Scrooge: The Musical

Autographed drawing of Tommy Steele in Scrooge: The Musical at the London Palladium and in The Glen Miller Story at the London Coliseum

Britain’s original teen idol and rock ‘n’ roll star, Tommy Steele returned to the London Coliseum, sixty years after he made his stage debut in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s CINDERELLA. This time he headlines THE GLENN MILLER STORY for a limited seven week engagement, celebrating one of the world’s best-selling recording artists, legendary American big-band leader, Glenn Miller, who had 23 number 1 hits between 1939-1943.

Tommy was last seen on the London stage in 2012 at the London Palladium as Ebenezer Scrooge in SCROOGE: THE MUSICAL adapted from the 1970 film SCROOGE featuring Albert Finney in the title role. The production was part of a UK and Ireland Christmas season tour between 2003-2013, which also included a run at the Palladium in 2005.

Tommy was included among the British Cultural Icons selected by artist Sir Peter Blake in 2012 to appear in a new version of his famous artwork, The Beatles’ SGT. PEPPER’S LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND album cover to celebrate British cultural figures of the last sixty years. He signed my Glenn Miller/ Scrooge sketch at the Palladium after performing the Saturday matinee a couple weeks ago.

Drawing: Martin Kemp in Chicago

Autographed drawing of Martin Kemp in Chicago at the Phoenix Theatre on London's West End

Spandau Ballet bassist and actor Martin Kemp made his West End debut early last month, taking over from Cuba Gooding Jr as the nefarious lawyer Billy Flynn in the London revival of CHICAGO at the Phoenix Theatre. No stranger to the stage, Martin was last seen in the capital as the legendary record producer Sam Phillips in MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET at the Royal Festival Hall in 2017.

While discussing his CHICAGO gig in an interview Martin said the playing the West End was always on his list of things to do. “It’s nice to be in the centre of town”, and it’s the first time he’s sung in character on stage. Did Cuba give him any advice? ” Yes , he said,”watch it as many times as you can.”

Although Martin’s ‘Billy’ is a little different than Cuba’s. “That’s the beauty playing Billy Flynn, we all interpret it differently and agrees it’s such a great part. “Billy commands the stage and everything’s in my key. He’s the devil that gets the girls to sell their souls.”

I met him arriving at the stage door on Saturday, where he signed this sketch. “Thanks man,” he said. Martin is scheduled until early September.

Drawing: Mazz Murray in We Will Rock You

Autographed drawing of Mazz Murray in We Will Rock You at the Dominion Theatre on London's West End

English singer and actress Mazz Murray was the longest-serving member of the cast in the London production of Queen’s rock musical, WE WILL ROCK YOU, joining the original ensemble when the show opened at the Dominion Theatre in May 2002. She took over the principal part of Killer Queen from Sharon D. Clarke in April 2004, remaining until June 2010, becoming the show’s longest-running performer in the role.

She later returned for special two-week farewell season from August 8-2011. In a recent interview, Mazz recalled the Queen’s Jubilee – Elizabeth ll, that is – concert at Buckingham Palace. She got on the wrong coach and ended up walking up the Mall in her PVC cat suit. After the grande finale, the Queen and Prince Charles meet everyone. The Prince leaned into into her and said, “The boys and I saw you walking down the Mall. They were in the car behind me.”

Her other roles include Tanya in MAMMA MIA and is currently Mamma Morton in the London revival of CHICAGO at the Phoenix Theatre. “The good thing about being in musicals,” she continued in her interview, “You’re a superstar on stage for two hours, then you’re in the supermarket the next morning. It’s the best of both worlds, you get your ego massaged, but have a totally private life.” Unless of course you happen to be walking down the Mall in a PVC cat suit in front of a Royal vehicle.

It was great to meet Mazz at the Phoenix Theatre stage door on Saturday when she arrived for the CHICAGO matinee last Saturday, where she signed my sketch. ‘Extraordinarily nice,’ as the lyrics say.

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: 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.