Drawing: Lily Allen, Hadley Fraser, Julia Chan and Jake Wood in 2:22 A GHOST STORY

Autographed drawing of Lily Allen, Hadley Fraser, Julia Chan and Jake Wood in 2:22 A GHOST STORY on West End

One of the first productions to open on the West End after the pandemic lockdowns forced theatres to go dark for nearly 18 months was Danny Robins’ supernatural thriller, 2:22 A GHOST STORY, directed by Matthew Dunster. It opened at the Noel Coward Theatre in early August last year, becoming the hottest ticket in town. After weeks of sell-out performances, 2:22 finished its initial run on 16 October.

Described as ‘the theatrical event of the year’, it marked the West End debut of chart-topping singer Lily Allen as Jenny, who believes her new house is haunted. “There’s something in our home. I hear it every night at the same time… 2:22”, while her husband Sam (Hadley Fraser) is having nothing of it. They invite Lauren, (Julia Chan) an old friend and her new partner Ben (Jake Wood) as their first dinner guests and Jenny persuades them all to stay up until 2:22 to see what happens.

In his TimeOut review, Andrzej Lukowski wrote, “2:22 is a rare and precious example of a good West End Ghost Story.”

Because of phenomenal demand, the play transferred across town to the Gielgud Theatre with a new cast until 12 February.

Due to covid protocols, the original cast members – Lily, Hadley, Julia and Jake were unable to sign at the stage door until after the final performance when I was able to have my sketch ‘graphed by all four.

Drawing: Stephen Sondheim

Autographed drawing of Stephen Sondheim

Stephen Sondheim, ‘the Titan of American Musical Theatre’, passed away at his home in the small town of Roxbury, Connecticut on 26 November at the age of 91. Lights were dimmed in early December at all venues on Broadway and the West End, where he has theatres named after him. He was considered the theatre’s most revered and influential composer-lyricist of the last half of the 20th Century.

The New York Times former theatre critic, Frank Rich, wrote, “Stephen Sondheim was the greatest and perhaps best-known artist in the American musical theatre.” In case you need reminding, here is why: WEST SIDE STORY (1957), GYPSY (1959), A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM (1962), COMPANY (1970), FOLLIES (1971), A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC (1973 – including one of my favourite songs,’Send In The Clowns’), his best; SWEENY TODD: THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET (1979), MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG (1981), SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE (1984), INTO THE WOODS (1987), ASSASSINS (1990) and PASSION (1994).

Among his many accolades, Steve collected eight Tony and Grammy Awards, six Oliviers, A Pulitzer (for SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE) and an Oscar for Best Original Song – ‘Sooner or Later’ from DICK TRACY (1990), sung by Madonna. He also received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Obama in 2015.

A frequent visitor to London, I had the honour of meeting him on a couple of occasions, the first at the Royal Festival Hall’s Artist Entrance in October 2010, when he was interviewed by Jude Kelly. By that time he had stopped signing autographs and politely declined my request along with a handful of people waiting with similar intent. I was pre-warned when I wrote to him and received a reply, apologising, but after years of accommodating fans he had decided to discontinue the practice.

However, a year earlier I did manage to acquire a signed autograph album page from an American collector. I drew this quick portrait sketch last week and added the sig in remembrance of the great man.

RIP Steve.

Drawing: Michael Pennington as Prospero

Tom Littler’s production of THE TEMPEST at the Jermyn Street Theatre in London, featuring Michael Pennington as Prospero, opened in March 2020 for a five week season. After only six performances it was forced to close due to the Covid lockdown. Eighteen months later it set sail again, and even though the Omnicron variant, currently rampaging through the West End, is causing show disruptions, the production looks likely to complete its rescheduled run this week.

One of the foremost Shakespearean actors of his generation, Michael’s distinguished career is dominated by a variety of leading stage roles for the Royal Shakespeare Company, the National Theatre and the English Shakespeare Company, which he co-founded and was its Artistic Director from 1986-1992. The four-time Olivier Award nominee has also toured two solo shows; SWEET WILLIAM and ANTON CHEKHOV worldwide. Earlier this year he released a memoir, entitled ‘In My Own Footsteps’.

“Being taken to the theatre when I was 11 years old lit a light in me, and that light has never gone out.”Michael’s latest stage performmance drew universal acclaim.  In the West End’s smallest producing theatre, he is “a colossal Prospero”, wrote Broadway World. The Guardian’s Arifa Akbar said, “The magic spark in this production lies largely in Pennington’s Prospero… a physically wizened but still mighty magician and displaced Duke.

“Michael also has a number of screen appearances to his impressive credit list, including CALLAN, THE BILL, THE TUDORS and FATHER BROWN on television and as Moff Jerjerrod in STAR WARS: RETURN OF THE JEDI (1983) and Michael Foot in THE IRON LADY (2011) on the big screen.

I met Michael a couple of weekends ago as he arrived at the Jermyn Street Theatre for a Saturday matinee, where he kindly signed my Prospero portrait for me.

Drawing: The Shark Is Broken

Signed Drawing of Ian Shaw, Liam Murray Scott and Demetri Goritas in The Shark Is Broken at the Ambassadors Theatre on London's West End

Duunn…dunnn…duuuunnnn…duun…duuunnunnunnn…dun…dun…dun…dun.

Martha’s Vineyard, 1974, shooting on twenty-six year old Steven Spielberg’s blockbuster JAWS has stalled. The film’s lead actors – Robert Shaw, Roy Scheider and Richard Dreyfuss – are stuck in a boat at the mercy of the bad weather and a faulty mechanical co-star.

JAWS finally swam into the West End, to the Ambassadors Theatre, courtesy of Sonia Friedman in the form of the play, THE SHARK IS BROKEN, the hilarious and moving behind-the-scenes drama based on the problems caused by filming on the Atlantic Ocean with the salt water playing havoc with the pneumatic components of the mechanical shark, nicknamed ‘Bruce’ after the director’s lawyer. With the budget spiralling out of control, cast and crew had a lot of time to kill, including the stars, fuelling a combustive dynamic with alcohol and ambition.

After a sell-out, critically acclaimed run at The Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2019 an extended version, written by Robert’s son Ian Shaw and comedy writer Joseph Nixon, directed by Guy Masterson was due to open in London last year. Suspended for 16 months due to the pandemic lockdowns the production opened this year on 9 November to rave reviews. I was amongst the matinee audience last Saturday that gave a standing ovation. The season has already been extended due to popular demand…omicron variant willing.

Ian has an uncanny resemblance to his father’s character, especially poignant in the closing scene when he delivers his famous ‘Indianapolis’ speech. Liam Murray Scott is marine biologist Matt Hooper, both reprising their Edinburgh roles. They are joined by Demetri Goritas as Amity police chief Martin Brody, the mediator between Robert and Richard.

All three cast members signed my sketch after the opening night performance on 9 November at the theatre’s stage door.

Drawing: Carol Burnett

Autographed drawing of Carol Burnett

Continuing my ‘lockdown letters’ to some of my favourite performers, I wrote to the wonderful Carol Burnett via her production company in Santa Monica earlier this year, enclosing this simple portrait sketch for signing, which she dedicated and quickly returned.

Rated one of the best TV shows of all time by a variety of notable publications including TIME magazine, THE CAROL BURNETT SHOW ran for 11 seasons from 1967-1978, with a total of 279 episodes and a further nine in 1991. I don’t think I missed one of them. The groundbreaking comedy-variety show was one of the first of its kind hosted by a woman. It featured Carol with regulars Harvey Korman, Vicki Lawrence, Lyle Waggoner and in later episodes Tim Conway and Dick Van Dyke, collecting 25 primetime Emmy Awards. 

Beginning with student productions while studying at UCLA in the early 1950’s, Carol’s impressive seven-decade career in stage, television and film, with a mixture of dramatic and comedic roles has been recognised with numerous awards including six Emmy Awards (23 nominations), seven Golden Globes (18 nominations) a Grammy and a Tony (three nominations each). In 2005 she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom “for enhancing the lives of millions of Americans and her extraordinary contribution to American entertainment.

During her student days, Carol was struggling to pay her tuition bills. An anonymous benefactor came to her rescue. She had to pay back the interest-free loan in five years, never to reveal his identity and if she became successful, help others in financial need. She kept all those promises, contributing to scholarships at both UCLA and the University of Hawaii.

Drawing: Amanda Harris

Shakespearean stalwart Amanda Harris won the Best Performance in a Supporting Role Olivier Award in 2005 for her portrayal of Emilia, the wife of the evil Iago (played by Anthony Sher) and Desdemona’s maidservent in the 2004 Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of OTHELLO, directed by Gregory Doran. After its initial staging in Stratford-upon-Avon, followed by a tour of Japan it returned to England and opened the larger of the two theatres at the Trafalgar Studios in London in June.

My wife and I were fortunate to see Amanda in the RSC’s staging of THE TAMING OF THE SHREW at the Barbican Theatre in London in 2019 as part of our annual Shakespearean tradition to celebrate our wedding anniversary. The production switched the genders for every role with Amanda playing Minola Baptista, one of the wealthiest ‘men’ in Padua and ‘father’ of Kate, the ‘shrew’ of the play’s title and Bianca.

Her screen credentials include appearances in all the popular British TV programmes, including MIDSOMER MURDERS, THE BILL, A TOUCH OF FROST and HEARTBEAT.
Amanda has taught drama and Shakespeare at the University of Alicante in Spain and is an Associate Artist at the RSC, where I sent this Emilia/Baptista sketch of her as for her to sign, which she kindly did and returned with a nice complementary note.

Susan Penhaligon, Louise Jameson, Lizzie Muncey and Sarah Moss in The Mousetrap

Autographed drawing of Sarah Moss as Miss Casewell in The Mousetrap at St Martin's Theatre on London's West End
Autographed drawing of Louise Jameson as Mrs Boyle in The Mousetrap at St Martin's Theatre on London's West End
Autographed drawing of Lizzie Muncey as Miss Casewell in The Mousetrap at St Martin's Theatre on London's West End

Agatha Christie’s genre-defining murder mystery play THE MOUSETRAP opened on the West End in 1952 and ran continuously until 16 March 2020, when it was discontinued as all London’s theatres went dark due to the Covid-19 pandemic, ending the longest initial run of any play in theatrical history. It will hopefully celebrate its 70th anniversary next year. As restrictions eased in England, the classic whodunnit resumed at St Martin’s Theatre on 17 May this year with two separate casts alternating each week.

As news spreads of a murder, a group of strangers find themselves snowed in at Monkswell Manor, a stately countryside guesthouse outside of London. When a police sergeant arrives, the guests discover that a killer is in their midst. Who will be the next victim? Two of the characters are Mrs Boyle, a pompous, pretentious critical older women who is a former court magistrate played by Susan Penhaligon and Louise Jameson and Miss Casewell, a strange, aloof, masculine woman who speaks off-handedly about her horrific childhood experiences was portrayed by Lizzie Muncey and Sarah Moss.

To mark the welcome return, I drew these sketches of the four cast members and left them at the theatre prior to The reopening, which they all kindly signed and returned. I added an additional image on Susan’s drawing of her as university student Prue Sorensen in ITV’s 1976 drama series BOUQUET OF BARBED WIRE.

Drawing: Marvin Hamlisch

Autographed drawing of composer Marvin Hamlisch

The late Marvin ‘Mr Showbiz’ Hamlisch remains one of the most decorated composers in entertainment. One of sixteen people to have won the E.G.O.T.; an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony Award, only he and Richard Rodgers have added the Pulitzer Prize to this distinguished set of American awards. His 50 plus movie scores range from spoofs such as NAKED GUN to tearjerkers like SOPHIE’S CHOICE and include a memorable Bond tune, ‘Nobody Dies It Better’ from THE SPY WHO LOVED ME (1977). With a dozen nominations, Marvin’s three Academy Awards were all won in 1973, two for THE WAY WE WERE and one for THE STING. His 1975 musical, A CHORUS LINE won two Tony Awards, including Best Musical, a Pulitzer for Drama and a Best Musical Olivier for the London production a year later. His four Grammy Awards were also won in 1975, collecting Best New Artist, two for THE WAY WE WERE soundtrack and title song and one for his adaptation of Scott Joplin’s ‘The Entertainer’, which featured in THE STING.

After a short illness Marvin passed away in 2012, aged 68. He was in London three years earlier for a two-date gig (“too brief to be called a ‘whirlwind’, he quipped) at the PizzaExpress Jazz Club in Soho in August 2009, where he signed for me.

Drawing: Liza Goddard

Autographed drawing of actress Liza Goddard

In the early years of television transmission in New Zealand during the later half of the 1960s I used to watch an Australian show called SKIPPY THE BUSH KANGAROO. It followed the adventures of a young boy and a highly intelligent marsupial, set in the fictional Waratah National Park near Sydney. A popular character was Clarissa ‘Clancy’ Merrick played by English actress Liza Goddard – my first introduction to one of my and Britain’s favourite performers.

Since then, Liza’s stage and small screen career has spanned five decades, with over 30 theatre appearances in the UK including a number of West End productions. Another telly favourite of mine was BERGERAC, which starred John Nettles in the title role as the unorthodox police officer and recovering alcoholic on the Channel island of Jersey. I mention this because Liza played the recurring role of glamorous jewel thief Philippa Vale, nicknamed ‘The Ice Maiden’. Years later Liza reunited with her ‘old flame’ John (as Detective Chief Inspector Tom Barnaby) in an episode of MIDSOMER MURDERS, another favourite.

During the gap between the pandemic lockdowns this year, Liza appeared in the Theatre Royal Windsor’s socially-distanced production of Agatha Christie’s gripping psychological thriller, LOVE FROM A STRANGER, which ran for a week last month. I posted this quick portrait sketch to her and she kindly signed it for me.

Drawing: Zoe Lyons

Autographed drawing of comedian Zoe Lyons in An Act of God at London's The Vaults Theatre

Award-winning British comedian Zoe Lyons was God for a short period last Winter… more on that later. Born in Wales, Zoe’s family moved to Ireland then to Surrey and on to Glasgow, where she got her first job in a jam factory. After graduating with a degree in Psychology from the University of York, Zoe’s comic career escalated after a stint on ITV’s reality game show SURVIVORS in 2001, later appearing on such popular TV favourites as MOCK THE WEEK, QI and a regular panellist on THE WRIGHT STUFF, among others.

Back to the Almighty. Zoe appeared as the supreme being in the European premiere of Emmy Award-winning writer David Javerbaum’s AN ACT OF GOD at London’s subterranean venue The Vaults, below Waterloo Station from late October last year until January. It originally opened on Broadway with Jim Parsons in the title role. As Zoe’s adjusted slogan said, ‘God is back… and she has a lot to say!’

I managed to get my sketch signed with a bit of divine intervention, when Zoe took a break between matinee and evening performances on the final Saturday of the season.