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.

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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 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.

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.

Drawing: Kelsey Grammer and Danielle de Niese in Man of La Mancha

Autographed drawing of Kelsey Grammer and Danielle De Niese in Man of La Mancha at the London Coliseum

The musical MAN OF LA MANCHA returns to the West End after fifty years in a semi-staged concert production at the London Coliseum with Kelsey Grammer as Miguel de Cervantes/Don Quixote and Danielle de Niese as Aldonza/Dulcinea and English National Opera’s 30-piece orchestra. Based on Dan Wasserman’s non-musical teleplay with music by Mitch Leigh and lyrics by Joe Darion, it opened on Broadway in 1965, winning five Tony Awards, including Best Musical. The original London production opened in April 1968 at the Piccadilly Theatre. Inspired by Miguel de Cervantes and his 17th century novel ‘Don Quixote’, MAN OF LA MANCHA is a ‘play within a play’ as Miguel de Cervantes languishes in a dungeon awaiting his hearing with the Spanish Inquisition, he and his fellow prisoners perform the story of the ‘mad’ knight Don Quixote.

Kelsey returns to the London boards after his successful 2017 debut in BIG FISH at The Other Palace. Even though many will know him for his multi-award winning role as Dr. Frasier Crane in the TV shows CHEERS and FRASIER, he is no stranger to the stage. His turn as Georges in LA CAGE AUX FOLLIES at New York’s Longacre Theatre in 2010 was recognised with a Tony nomination, an award he won eight years later as one of the producers for THE COLOUR PURPLE. In LA MANCHA he gets to sing the big number, ‘The Impossible Dream’ (The Quest).

Australian-born lyric soprano Danielle moved to Los Angeles with her family, making her operatic debut with the Los Angeles Opera at the age of fifteen. A year later she won an Emmy for hosting the TV programme LA KIDS. Danni, as she is known to family, friends and colleagues has been described by the New York Times as ‘Opera’s coolest soprano,’ and an opera pop star. She has performed around the globe at many of the major opera houses, including Convent Garden where she debuted in the Royal Opera’s production of Handel’s ACIS AND GALATEA in 2009.

Both Kelsey and Danielle kindly signed this sketch for me at Wogan House a couple of weeks ago when they appeared on Graham Norton’s BBC Radio2 show.

Drawing: Sally Field, Bill Pullman and Jenna Coleman

Autographed drawing of actor Bill Pullman Autographed drawing of actor Jenna Coleman Autographed drawing of actor Sally Field

Jeremy Herrin’s revival of Arthur Miller’s early classic ALL MY SONS opened last month at the Old Vic theatre to critical acclaim. Amongst the stellar cast are three well known names, all making their London stage debuts. Double Oscar winner Sally Field is joined by Bill Pullman and Jenna Coleman.

Bill’s long stage career includes his role as Martin in Edward Albee’s THE GOAT, OR WHO IS SYLVIA? at New York’s John Golden Theatre in 2002, alongside Mercedes Ruehl as Stevie. When the cast changed later that year, Bill Irwin replaced Bill, and Sally took over as Stevie in her Broadway debut. Jenna is making her first professional appearance in the West End after a number of high profile TV roles, including Clara Oswald in DOCTOR WHO and the Queen Victoria in the biographical drama VICTORIA.

Considered the play that made his name, Arthur Miller wrote ALL MY SONS in 1947, inspired by real-life events at an Ohio engineering firm who conspired to supply defected aircraft engines during the World War II.

Sally, fresh from her Tony-nominated appearance on Broadway last year in Tennessee William’s THE GLASS MENAGERIE, plays Kate Keller, trying to hold her family together, while refusing to accept the death of her pilot son, Larry who has been missing-in-action for the past three years. Bill is her husband Joe, exonerated after being charged for knowingly supplying the military with damaged aircraft engine cylinder heads, causing the death of 21 pilots and Jenna plays Annie, the late pilot’s sweetheart.

I was fortunate to meet all three early on in rehearsals at the Old Vic, where they kindly signed their respective sketches for me.

Drawing: Rita Moreno

Autographed drawing of actress Rita Moreno

Rita Moreno was born Rosa Dolores Alverio Marcano 87 years ago in Humacao, Puerto Rico. In a career that has spanned seventy years, she is one of only fifteen artists to complete the EGOT; winning all four of America’s competitive entertainment awards, the Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony, honouring achievements in television, recording, film and theatre, often referred to as the ‘grand slam’ of American show business. She is also the recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America’s highest civilian honour.

Rita has won two Emmy Awards, the first in 1977 for her appearance on an episode of THE MUPPET SHOW, and her second, the following year for her guest role on THE ROCKFORD FILES. Her Grammy was for THE ELECTRIC COMPANY Album in 1972. She won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her portrayal of Anita in the film adaption of Leonard Bernstein’s and Stephen Sondheim’s groundbreaking Broadway musical WEST SIDE STORY and a Tony for Best Featured Actress as Googie Gomez in THE RITZ at the Longacre Theatre in 1975.

I sent this sketch of Rita to her home in California a few weeks ago, and it came back signed and dedicated.

Drawing: Nigel Slater

Autographed drawing of Chef Nigel Slater

I finally got to meet another culinary hero of mine last week. Nigel Slater was at The Other Palace theatre for the West End premiere of the sage adaption of TOAST, the comedy-drama, based on his best-selling , award-winning autobiography ‘Toast: The Story of a Boy’s Hunger.’ The extraordinary story of a childhood revealed through food was also made into a successful film, featuring Helena Bonham Carter in 2010.

One of Britain’s foremost gastronomic writers, Nigel is famous for his stripped-back recipes, which show how easy it is to make delicious meals from just a few high-quality ingredients. The play was commissioned in 2018 by The Lowry in Manchester, where it had a sell-out run at the Week 53 Festival. Written by Henry Filoux-Bennett, the production moved to the Edinburgh Fringe, embarking on a UK National tour, before its London transfer.

I met Nigel at the theatre, where he very kindly signed my sketch, before the press night performance. I’ve always admired Nigel’s handwriting, which features in many of his TV shows, so was able to satisfy both culinary and calligraphic obsessions. I later discovered, not only was it his birthday, (one day before mine) but we are the same age, so a belated many happy returns.