Drawing: Paul Bettany in ‘The Collaboration’

Autographed drawing of Paul Bettany as Andy Warhol in The Collaboration at London's Young Vic Theatre

In February this year, British actor Paul Bettany returned to the theatre after an absence of 25 years, fourteen of them spent in Marvel’s AVENGERS franchise to play longtime international superstar Andy Warhol in Anthony McCarten‘s THE COLLABORATION at London’s Young Vic.  It sees the Pop Art icon return to painting after a quarter of a century of parties, gossip and lucrative printmaking.

Billed as a ‘prize-fight between two cultural heavyweights’, the play is set in New York in the summer of 1984. Warhol and the art scene’s newest wunderkid, Jean-Michel Basquiat (played by Jeremy Pope) agree to work together on what may be the most talked about exhibition in the history of modern art. “There are also a couple of titanic lead performances… and Paul Bettany and Jeremy Pope really, really deliver… Bettany is a strange and riveting Warhol… he’s a fascinating creation”, wrote TimeOut’s theatre critic Andrzej Lukowski. After a successful run in London, the production has just opened on Broadway with the same leads and director Kwame Kwei-Armah at the Samuel J.Friedman Theater. All three are also central to a film version which is now in post production.

After dropping out of school, Paul lived in a small flat and earned money playing guitar as a busker on the London streets and working in a home for the elderly before enrolling in a three-year course at the Drama Centre London. He made his stage debut at the age of 19, playing Eric Birling in Stephen Daldry’s acclaimed West End revival of AN INSPECTOR CALLS at the Aldwych Theatre in 1993.

Six plays, including three for the Royal Shakespeare Company, 13 TV productions and 42 films later his career has be filled with many memorable highlights and accolades with nine wins from 19 award nominations. He received a BAFTA nom for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of surgeon and naturalist Stephen Maturinin in Peter Weir’s MASTER AND COMMANDER: THE FAR SIDE OF THE WORLD (2003) and won the London Film Critic’s Award for Best British Actor and the Evening Standard Award for Best Actor. He was also nominated for a Golden Globe for his role as the posh android Vision in the TV miniseries WANDAVISION. He won the London Film Critics’ Circle Award in 2002 for his portrayal of Geoffrey Chaucer in THE KNIGHT’S TALE.

Paul signed my sketch in early March during the THE COLLABORATION’s six-week run at the Young Vic.

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Drawing: Jeremy Pope in ‘The Collaboration’

Autographed drawing of Jeremy Pope in 'The Collaboration' at London's Young Vic Theatre

It’s been a very busy and rewarding last few years, in spite of the Covid pandemic, for Florida-born actor and singer Jeremy Pope. He made his Broadway debut in 2018 as Pharus Jonathan Young in the play CHOIR BOY, followed by his portrayal of Eddie Kendricks in the jukebox musical AIN’T TOO PROUD. Both his performances were recognised the following year, becoming only the sixth person to receive Tony Award nominations in two categories for separate performances during the same year. He also earned a 2020 Grammy nomination for the latter for ‘Best Musical Theater Album.’ In 2019 he landed a lead role in the Netflix miniseries HOLLYWOOD, playing aspiring screenwriter Archie Colman, for which he was nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Movie. Last week he received a Golden Globe nomination for his role as Ellis French in the drama film THE INSPECTION.

This year Jeremy returned to the theatre, crossing the Atlantic to join Paul Bettany in the world premiere of Anthony McCarten‘s THE COLLABORATION at London’s Young Vic, which opened in February. Directed by Kwawe Kwei-Armah, it looks at the unique and rich friendship between two of the world’s most interesting artists; the waning Pop Art legend Andy Warhol (Paul) and the ‘King’ of Neo Expressionism, the Haitian/Puerto Rican enfant terrible and former street kid Jean-Michel Basquait (Jeremy), who was “churning out canvases for dizzying piles of cash.” 

In his four-star review for the Evening Standard, Nick Curtis writes, “Paul Bettany and Jeremy Pope match each other in brilliance in the study of art, commerce and identity.” The Broadway transfer with both reprising their roles, just completed previews and opened this week at the Samuel J. Friedman Theater. Kwame is also directing with all three collaborating for the film adaption, which is currently in post-production. Jeremy signed my sketch during the successful run at the Young Vic.

Drawing: Jodie Comer in PRIMA FACIE

Autographed Drawing of Jodie Comer in Prima Facie on West End

“West End debuts don’t come much more astonishing than this solo tour de force by Jodie Comer,” wrote The Telegraph’s Chief Theatre Critic Dominic Cavendish in his five-star review of the 90 minute, one-hander PRIMA FACIE, which ran this spring at the Harold Pinter Theatre, for a sold-out nine week season. The BAFTA and Emmy Award-winning actress plays Tessa Ensler, a brilliant barrister, who specialises in defending men accused of sexual assault, until she is raped by a colleague. It was only her second ever stage role, the first in Scarborough, thirteen years ago when she was 16, playing Ruby in THE PRICE OF EVERYTHING at the Stephen Joseph Theatre.

“The KILLING EVE star makes a masterful West End debut in Suzi Miller’s play about sexual assault and the legal system,” said the Guardian’s Arifa Akbar. The Evening Standard’s Nick Curtis wrote, “We all wanted to know if she’s as good live on stage as she is on screen. And the answer is no: she’s better.”

“Comer evolves the character as the play goes on, twisting Tessa’s charismatic confidence into traumatised, fidgety panic-duality expressed in the publicity poster, which overlays an image of a self-satisfied lawyer-mode Comer into one of her letting out an anguished scream… and she plays all the other supporting roles… we watch her slip between the prim prosperity and rounded vowels of Tessa’s Cambridge Professors to the crotch-scratching arrogance of policemen and Elton-boy drawl of her peers among many others,” wrote Yasmin Omar in her Curzon Cinemas review for the NT Live screening of the production in movie theatres.
Jodie will make her Broadway debut at the Schubert Theatre later this year when the production transfers to New York.

She kindly signed my sketch at the Pinter stage door after her final performance on 18 June where hundreds of fans gathered, fifteen deep.

Drawing: LIfe of Pi, The Tiger 7

Autographed drawing of the Tiger Puppet from Life of Pi on West End, London

The Covid pandemic delayed the West End transfer of the spectacular stage adaptation of Yann Martel’s best-selling Booker Prize-winning novel, the LIFE OF PI from the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield to London’s Wyndham’s Theatre. It finally opened last December, winning five Olivier Awards including Best New Play…. and creating London theatrical history when the six puppeteers and voice artist of the tiger – Fred Davis (Head), Daisy Franks (Heart), Romina Hytten (Heart), Tom Larkin (Head), Habib Nasib Nader (Voice),Tom Stacy (Hind) and Scarlet Wilderink (Heart) – won Best Supporting Actor.

A sixteen-year-old Indian boy named Pi is cast adrift on a lifeboat in the middle of the Pacific Ocean for 227 days with a hyena, a zebra, an orangutang and a Royal Bengal Tiger called Richard Parker. The puppet designers and movement directors, Finn Caldwell and Nick Barnes also won Oliviers. In her WhatsOnStage review, Sarah Crompton wrote,”If you want theatrical magic, LIFE OF PI is the show for you. The tiger is a magnificent creation whose every movement and sound make you believe you are in the presence of a dangerous, prowling beast.”

“It’s a landmark moment in puppetry… we’re hoping it opens the door for more puppets in central roles in the future”, said Fred after their deserved win.

I left a quick sketch of Richard Parker along with a congratulatory card at the Wyndham’s stage door, which all of the ‘Tiger 7’ kindly signed and returned for me, along with two pieces of special original artwork from Romina and Payal Misty, who plays Pi’s sister Rani. They also gave me a programme, signed by all the cast. Big thanks!

Artwork and thank you notes from Life of Pi Puppeteers

Drawing: Stephen Sondheim’s Old Friends tribute concert 3 May 2022

Drawing of Stephen Sondheim signed by Sir Cameron Mackintosh, Maria Friedman, Dame Judy Dench, Petula Clark, Julia McKenzie, Michael Ball, Bernadette Peters, Sian Philips, Bonnie Langford, Janie Dee, Gary Wilmot, Clive Rowe, Charlie Stemp, Michael Xavier, Jon Robyns, Damien Lewis, Rob Brydon, Haydn Gwynn and Julian Ovenden, from the Stephen Sonheim Old Friends Tribute Concert, London

British producer and theatre impresario, Sir Cameron Mackintosh invited many of the late Stephen Sondheim’s old friends to join him in celebrating the great composer’s extraordinary talents and legacy at the West End theatre named after him. Considered one of the most influential figures in twentieth-century musical theatre, Stephen passed away at his home in Roxbury, Connecticut last November at the age of 91, before he was able to attend the official naming ceremony of the Shaftesbury Avenue theatre.

The tribute concert STEPHEN SONDHEIM’S OLD FRIENDS (from a number in 1981’s MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG) on 3 May, directed by Maria Friedman was also simulcast at the nearby Prince Edward Theatre, due to ticket demand. All proceeds went to the Stephen Sondheim Foundation. In his five star review for the Guardian, Mark Lawson wrote, “A glorious all-star memorial service… Stephen Sondheim was so vast a talent that London required two theatres to remember him… each of the (41) tunes a eulogy.”

While I wasn’t unable to get (or indeed fit) every artist, I did manage 19 from the glittering line-up, who respectfully signed around the pencil portrait of the great man; Sir Cameron Mackintosh, Maria Friedman, Dame Judy Dench, Petula Clark, Julia McKenzie, Michael Ball, Bernadette Peters, Sian Philips, Bonnie Langford, Janie Dee, Gary Wilmot, Clive Rowe, Charlie Stemp, Michael Xavier, Jon Robyns, Damien Lewis, Rob Brydon, Haydn Gwynn and Julian Ovenden.

Drawing: Liza Sadovy as Fraulein Schneider in CABARET

Autographed drawing of Liza Sadovy in Cabaret at the Playhouse Theatre on London's West End

British actress Liza Sadovy won the Olivier Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role in a Musical for her performance as the amiable landlady Fraulein Schneider in Rebecca Frecknall’s sensational revival of CABARET at the Playhouse Theatre. The production made history, winning all four Musical acting categories with leads Eddie Redmayne and Jessie Buckley and fellow supporting actor and on-stage love interest Elliot Levey also collecting their respective awards at this month’s Royal Albert Hall ceremony.

“Sadovy is especially excellent, bringing both sweetness and steeliness to her depiction of a world- weary woman,” wrote Miriam Gibson in her LondonBoxOffice review. Liza and Elliot (as the Jewish shopkeeper Herr Schultz) are retirement-age lovers as the Nazi party is taking over the streets of Berlin in the 1930’s. They ‘swoon over a pineapple until their relationship is derailed by anti-Semitism.’ In Variety, David Benedict said, “The utter sincerity of the detailing of their relationship is so magnetic that even the pineapple song ‘It Couldn’t Please Me More’ here makes rare emotional sense,”

Liza’s career has seen her perform on both sides of the Atlantic. Her stage appearances include WICKED in the original London production as the replacement Madame Morrible, Catherine De Brie in LA BETE on both Broadway and the West End, FIDDLER ON THE ROOF, OLIVER!, PYGMALION and RICHARD II to name a few. She has also appeared in Opera productions such as THE MARRIAGE OF FIGARO, LA TRAVIATA and DON GIOVANNI. In film and TV she lists Tim Burton’s SWEENY TODD:THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET with Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter, MIDSOMER MURDERS, EASTENDERS and VERA amongst her credits.

Liza signed this sketch for me on her final day at the Playhouse, before immediately starting rehearsals for Rodger and Hammerstein’s OKLAHOMA!, where the Tony Award- winning production transfers to London’s Young Vic, after its acclaimed Broadway run and US tour. It opens this week with Liza playing the town’s fun-loving caretaker Aunt Eller.

Drawing: Elliot Levey as Herr Schultz in CABARET

Autographed drawing of Elliot Levey in Cabaret at London's Playhouse Theatre on West End

The London revival of the Kander and Ebb classic musical CABARET at the Playhouse Theatre was nominated for 11 Olivier Awards, winning seven, including Best Actor in a Supporting Role in a Musical for Elliot Levey for his portrayal of the kindly old Jewish fruit seller, Herr Schultz in Berlin during the Weimar-era. After reading philosophy at Oxford University, Elliot has become a popular regular on the British stage, including the National Theatre’s 2004 revival of HIS DARK MATTERS, as Brutus in CORIOLANUS with Mark Gatiss and Tom Hiddleston at the Donmar Warehouse in 2013 and in the role of Don John in MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING alongside David Tennant and Catherine Tate at Wyndham’s in 2011. His film work includes Kenneth Branagh’s remake of MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS, THE LADY IN THE VAN, THE QUEEN, PHILOMENIA and on the small screen, PEAKY BLINDERS.

“Lovely work from Elliot Levey and Liza Sadovy as the landlady Fraulein Schneider… the fate of their sweet, courtly romance in the face of Nazi disapproval drives events in the story,” wrote Andrzej Lukowski in his TimeOut review. Variety critic David Benedict said, “Any scrap of sentimentality in the writing is banished by the wonderfully held tension between the two actors, who use expert comic timing to walk a tentative tightrope between hope and heartbreak.”

Elliot signed this drawing I did of him prior to a Saturday matinee at the Playhouse Theatre stage door the day before he collected his Olivier.

Drawing: Hiran Abeysekera in the Life Of Pi

Autographed drawing of Hiran Abeysekera in the Life Of Pi on West End

Lolita Chakrabarti’s puppet-powered adaption of Yann Martel’s much-loved Booker Prize winning novel THE LIFE OF PI opened in Sheffield’s Crucible theatre in 2019 to a rapturous reception, but its West End transfer was severely delayed due to the pandemic. It was worth the wait. When the breathtaking production, directed by Max Webster, finally opened at Wyndham’s Theatre last November, it was an instant smash hit, ‘A Theatrical Phenomenon’ (The Telegraph), winning five Olivier Awards at last weekend’s Royal Albert Hall ceremony, including Best New Play.

“It is one of the most visually stunning theatre shows I have ever seen,” wrote Andrzej Lukowski in his TimeOut review. “Long after the curtain falls LIFE OF PI will make you believe in the power of theatre,” said The Times.

A father’s decision to relocate his ramshackled family zoo in the South Indian coastal town of Pondicherry to Canada begins an epic 227-day journey of hope and endurance. After the cargo ship sinks in the middle of the vast Pacific Ocean there are five survivors on a lifeboat; a hyena, a zebra, an orangutang, a Royal Bengal Tiger named Richard Parker and the extraordinary story’s protagonist and zookeeper’s son, sixteen-year-old Piscine Molitor ‘Pi’ Patel (named after a swimming pool in Paris), played by a very youthful and ebullient 35 year-old RADA graduate Hiran Abeysekera, deservedly winning the Olivier for Best Actor.

During the delay and lockdowns, Hiran recalled thinking, “like many creative people, he questioned the importance of his job, compared to nurses and other frontline workers, but then people kept taking about all the things that they were watching on their laptops and how TV and entertainment were a huge part of people’s mental health.” It reassured him.

Hiran’s personal theatrical journey began after his memorable portrayal of Alan Strang in the 2007 British Council’s Sri Lankan production of Peter Shaffer’s EQUUS in his hometown of Columbo, which caught the attention of theatre director Willi Richards, who flew him to the UK to audition for various drama schools, winning a scholarship at the prestigious Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. And so the 23 year-old began a new life in London.

Sri Lankan Sunday Times journalist interviewed Hiran in 2008. He wrote, “Some people make an instant impression on you. Some others leave you hoping you would meet them again. This young man falls into both categories.” I certainly agree, meeting Hiran at the stage door prior to a Sunday matinee last month, where he kindly signed my sketch.

Drawing: Saoirse Ronan in The Crucible

Autographed drawing of Saoirse Ronan in The Crucible on Broadway

American-born Irish actress Saoirse Ronan made her stage debut on Broadway as the main antagonist in the 2016 revival of Arthur Miller’s 1953 play THE CRUCIBLE at the Walter Kerr Theatre. She played the manipulative maid Abigail Williams, responsible for the deaths of 150 people accused of witchcraft in Salem in 1692. It was an allegory for McCarthyism. In his review for The Hollywood Reporter, David Rooney called Saoirse’s performance “icy and commanding.” The production won the Tony Award for Best Revival.

Last year she made her London stage debut as Lady Macbeth in the Almeida Theatre’s production of Shakespeare’s THE TRAGEDY OF MACBETH.

In 2020 the New York Times ranked her tenth on its list of this century’s Greatest Actors. She has been nominated for four Oscars – for her performances in ATONEMENT (2007), BROOKLYN (2015), LADY BIRD (2017), and LITTLE WOMEN (2019) and five BAFTA Awards in the same films with the addition of THE LOVELY BONES (2009). She won a Golden Globe for her title role as Christine ‘Lady Bird’ MacPherson in Greta Gerwig’s 2017 directorial debut LADY BIRD.

Saorise signed my sketch of her as Abigail at the Almeida Theatre during the final week of MACBETH In November 2021.

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.