Anglo-Irish playwright, screenwriter and director Martin McDonagh’s latest stage play A VERY VERY VERY DARK MATTER opened last week at London’s Bridge Theatre. Set in Copenhagen, it delves behind the dark sources of the beloved fairytales of Danish children’s author Hans Christian Anderson.
Martin is a person I admire greatly. With no formal training he wrote a stack of plays in 1990s that made him one of the most celebrated new English-language dramatists of his generation. The first six, separated into two trilogies, are located in and around County Galway on Ireland’s western seaboard, where he spent most of his childhood holidays. His first non-Irish play, THE PILLOWMAN was staged at the National Theatre in 2003, winning the Olivier Award for Best New Play and was also Tony nominated in 2005. He had previously won the Olivier for THE LIEUTENANT OF INISMORE and collected his third for HANGMEN in 2016. He is yet to win a Tony after four nominations.
Martin has stated that it’s the screen, not the stage that is his favourite medium. In that realm, he is very very very much in demand after his third feature, THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI, which he wrote and directed, featured heavily during the latest awards season with seven Oscar nominations, including Best Picture and Original Screenplay. It won five BAFTAs from nine nominations, winning Best Film and Best British Film and Best Original Screenplay for Martin who also claimed the producing, writing and directing Golden Globes. He’s no stranger to film awards. His screenplay for his first feature, IN BRUGES (2008) won the BAFTA and he received his fourth nomination for an Oscar, which he won on his first attempt in 2005 for SIX SHOOTER in the Best Live Action Short category.
I was very very very pleased to meet Martin at the World Premiere of A VERY VERY VERY DARK MATTER at the Bridge Theatre last week where he signed my sketch.
Although Sir David Hare is best known for his multi-award winning stage work, the distinguished English writer and director has also had great success with his screen career. He won the BAFTA for writing and directing LICKING HITLER in 1978, a television play about the black propaganda unit operating in England during WWII, and has been nominated for two Academy Awards and two Golden Globes for his THE HOURS (2003) and THE READER (2009) adapted screenplays. He won the Writers Guild of America award for the former.
Sir David signed my quick portrait sketch at the recent BFI London Film Festival’s Gala screening of THE WHITE CROW, which he wrote about Soviet ballet legend Rudolph Nureyev’s defection to the West, directed by Ralph Fiennes.
“I like stories and I am always looking for the one which I imagine to be irresistible,” wrote British novelist and screenwriter Ian McEwan, considered one of the most powerful people in UK culture and listed by The Times in the 50 greatest British writers since 1945.
Winner of numerous accolades, including six nominations for the Man Booker Prize, Ian won the prestigious award in 1998 for his novel AMSTERDAM. The acclaimed screen adaption of his romantic war drama ATONEMENT collected Oscars, BAFTAs and a Golden Globe.
I had hoped to catch Ian in person at the premiere of his latest film adaption THE CHILDREN’S ACT at the Curzon Mayfair, but missed him, so sent this sketch to his agent and it came back signed and dedicated.
The final signed sketch in this week’s writers series is Dame Hilary Mantel, who I was lucky to meet after her second appearance at the Man Booker 50 Series, the weekend long festival dedicated to the 50th anniversary of the Man Booker Prize at various venues in London’s Southbank Centre. Dame Hilary has won the Booker twice-the first British author and only woman to win it more than once.
In 2009 WOLF HALL, the fictional account of Thomas Cromwell’s rapid rise to power the court of Henry VIII collected the award and three years later the sequel to the dark Tudor tale, BRING UP THE BODIES repeated the win.
The third instalment in the Cromwell trilogy, THE MIRROR AND THE LIGHT is in progress. Described by the judges as an “extraordinary piece of storytelling”, this very modern novel, which happens to be set in the 16th Century, the 650 page WOLF HALL was also one of the five shortlisted books for the special one-off Golden Man Booker anniversary prize, to select the best work of fiction over the five decades of Britain’s most prestigious literary accolade.
I managed to catch Dame Hilary as she left the Purcell Room on Saturday afternoon , where she signed this quick portrait sketch for me.
I had always missed Christopher Hampton at various play openings and other events around London over the past few years. He was someone I really wanted to meet. When I heard he was part of the ‘Page to Screen’ panel at last weekend’s Man Booker 50 festival I quickly did this sketch and made my way to the Queen Elizabeth Hall on London’s Southbank on Saturday afternoon. Although Chris has not won a Booker Prize, he has pretty much won everything else.
The celebrated British playwright, screenwriter and translator’s 1985 play of seduction and revenge, LES LIAISONS DANGEREUSES, adapted from the 1782 novel of the same name by Pierce Choderlos de Laclos, won the Olivier Award for Best New Play after its run at The Pit theatre in the Barbican and a Tony nomination when it transferred to Broadway’s Music Box Theatre.
The film version, DANGEROUS LIAISONS directed by Stephen Frears collected multiple awards. Chris won both the Oscar and the BAFTA as well as the London Critics’ Circle and the Writers Guild of America Awards for his screenplay adaption. In 1995 he won two Tony Awards; Best Original Score and Best Book of a Musical; for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s SUNSET BOULEVARD.
The stage door at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, or as the Southbank Centre people like to call it, the ‘Artists’ Entrance’ is tucked away around the back of the venue between it and the British Film Institute in a concrete canyon opposite a multi-storied car park. A tricky place to find, as an acclaimed writer found out. However, for stalkers armed with sharpies, it’s an essential part of our MO.
When I saw a person who looked lost and more importantly, looked like my drawing, I was able to use my sense of direction for mutual gain, assisting Chris to the said entrance in return for signing the said rendering. Reciprocity is always a good thing in this business… plus we had a nice chat as I helped him successfully complete his journey.
It’s always nice to catch up with a fellow kiwi in London, and in this case a very distinguished New Zealander, Man Booker Prize winner Eleanor Catton. Born in Canada, while her father completed his doctorate at the University of Western Ontario, she grew up in Christchurch on east coast of NZ’s South Island. Eleanor’s second novel, THE LUMINARIES won the Man Booker Prize in 2013.
At the age of 28, she was the youngest recipient of the prestigious literary award. It was also the longest book to win, with 832 pages. The chair of the judging panel, Robert Macfarlane said, “It’s a dazzling work. It’s a luminous work. It is vast without being sprawling.”
Set in 1866, THE LUMINARIES follows Walter Moody, a prospector who heads to Hokitika on the opposite coast to Christchurch to make his fortune in the goldfields, but stumbles on a meeting of twelve local men and is drawn into a complex mystery that is covering up a series of unsolved crimes. Each of the twelve men are associated with the twelve signs of the zodiac, astrological principles, the sun and the moon – ‘the luminaries’ in the title. Each of the novel’s twelve parts decreases in length to mimic the waning of the moon. As Eleanor herself said, “It’s a kind of weird sci-fi fantasy thing.”
Eleanor was in London over the weekend speaking at the ‘Series Man Booker 50′ as part of the 50th anniversary celebrations of the Prize. I met her at the Queen Elizabeth Hall Artists’ Entrance on Saturday, where we ‘conversed in kiwi’ as she signed my sketch.
Japanese-born British author and Nobel laureate Kazuo Ishiguro moved to the UK with his family in 1960, when he was five years old. Since then he has become one of the most celebrated contemporary fiction writers in the English-speaking world.
Among his many accolades are four Booker Prize nominations, winning in 1989 with THE REMAINS OF THE DAY, written in first person, recounting the butler Stevens’ professional and personal relationship with a former colleague, the housekeeper Miss Kenton. The 1993 film version starring Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson was nominated for eight Academy Awards. His 2005 novel NEVER LET ME GO was also shortlisted for the Booker, with TIME magazine citing it as the Best Novel of the Year and was also adapted into a successful film in 2010.
Last year the Swedish Academy awarded him the Nobel Prize in Literature, with the citation, as a writer “who, in novels of great emotional force has uncovered the abyss beneath our illusory sense of connection with the world.” This year he was knighted in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list.
Sir Kazuo signed my sketch at the Artists Entrance to the Royal Festival Hall on Sunday as he arrived to take part in the ‘Series Man Booker 50’, celebrating half a century of the prestigious literary prize.
Sri-Lanka-born Canadian author Michael Ondaatje’s 1992 Booker Prize winning novel THE ENGLISH PATIENT was awarded the special, one-off Golden Man Booker award last night, to mark the 50th Anniversary of the prestigious literary accolade. All 52 previous winners were eligible, with the judges shortlisting five – one for each decade – IN A FREE STATE (1971) by V.S.Naipaul, MOON TIGER (1987) by Penelope Lively, THE ENGLISH PATIENT, WOLF HALL (2009) by Hilary Mantel and LINCOLN IN THE BARDO (2017) by George Sanders. The prize has been shared on two occasions, one being in 1992 when THE ENGLISH PATIENT and Barry Unsworth’s SACRED HUNGER were chosen as joint winners. The final Golden Prize was selected by public poll.
THE ENGLISH PATIENT centres around the eponymous ‘English patient’, Count Laszlo de Almasy, burned and disfigured in a plane crash during the North Africa Campaign of WWII, who tells his story in flashbacks, involving a romantic affair, while being attended by Hana, a young Canadian nurse. He is believed to be English, but main his identity is revealed, little by little culminating in the great irony of the novel, he’s not English, but Hungarian… an “international bastard” who has spent most of his adult life wandering the desert. The 1996 film adaption featuring Ralph Fiennes as Almasy won nine Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director for the late Anthony Minghella.
Michael signed my sketch at the Royal Festival Hall when he arrived yesterday afternoon as part of the ‘Man Booker 50’ series of lectures, workshops and discussions over the weekend, prior to the announcement of the Golden Man Booker Prize last night.
Continuing my series of writer sketches is prolific English playwright Simon Stephens. After giving up school teaching, Simon’s theatre career started at the Royal Court Theatre in London where he taught the Young Writers’ Programme for many years. He is now its Associate Playwright as well as Artistic Associate at the Lyric Hammersmith and the inaugural Associate Playwright at the Steep Theatre Company in Chicago… just busy enough.
Winner of numerous accolades, his most notable is the Best New Play Olivier Award in 2006 for ON THE SHORE OF THE WIDE WORLD. Simon’s adaption of Mark Haddon’s novel THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME won the 2013 Best New Play Olivier, one of a record seven the production collected.
The highly acclaimed story surrounding the mystery of the death of a neighbour’s dog investigated by Christopher Boone who has an autistic spectrum condition. The play opened at the National Theatre in August 2012 before transferring to the Apollo in London’s West End the following year. The production halted when the theatre’s ceiling collapsed on 19 December and reopened next door at the Gielgud Theatre in July 2014, completing the run in June last year.
The Broadway production debuted in October 2014 at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre, winning the Best New Play Tony Award. I sent my sketch of Simon to his London agent and it quickly came back signed and dedicated.
“I hope my plays hold up in 400 years time, that’s the real test,” Sir Alan Ayckbourn once said. Well, none of us will be around to find out, but all 82 of them are certainly more than holding their own during his lifetime and a few to come.
Regarded as one of the world’s pre-eminent dramatists, Sir Alan is known for satirising middle class manners since his first West End hit RELATIVELY SPEAKING in 1968. Most of his plays started life in his beloved Stephen Joseph Theatre – named after his mentor – in Scarborough where Sir Alan was Artistic Director for 37 years, retiring in 2009. In that time such classics as ABSURD SINGULAR SINGULAR, BEDROOM FARCE, A CHORUS OF DISAPPROVAL, HOW THE OTHER HALF LOVES and THE NORMAN CONQUESTS were born.
“The joy of the English Language is in its infinite capacity for being misunderstood,” he said in a recent interview. I like his 2004 quote, “I am a playwright. Right? Writing is part of my ancient rite. It is my god-given right to write. I exercise that quite rightly, and write, write, write.”
I have had the privilege of meeting Sir Alan on a couple of occasions at London press nights and sent him this quick portrait drawing last week, which he kindly signed and returned.