The world’s longest continuously running play for the past 68 years, Agatha Christie’s THE MOUSTRAP in London’s West End has finally ended its ‘initial’ run. On March 16 this year, when the British Prime Minister issued a statement in response to the Covid-19 pandemic advising people to avoid gathering in theatres, cinemas, bars and restaurants, the producers appropriately ‘suspended’ all performances until 30 June at the earliest. All theatre’s are now dark until further notice after the lockdown was formalised a week later.
The timeless tale of ‘whodunnit’ by the ‘Queen of mystery’, involving a small group of people who gather at Monkswell Manor, where a murder takes place during a blizzard, opened at the Ambassadors Theatre on 25 November 1952, running until Saturday 23 March 1974, before transferring next door to St Martin’s on the Monday. It has become a West End staple ever since.
One of my recent routines is to draw the actresses playing the strange and aloof Miss Casewell and the Manor’s co-proprietor, Mollie Ralston after each cast change – in this case, Victoria Lucie and Mollie Roberts respectfully, who now have the distinction of being part of final cast of THE MOUSETRAP’s ‘initial’ run. Victoria is making her West End debut and has just finished a TV pilot for NOIR-MAN. Mollie is the Artistic Director for Poleroid Theatre and is a regular on stage and screen, receiving multiple Off West End Award nominations.
Both signed my sketch prior to the lockdown.
Milos Forman’s 1975 film adaption of Ken Kesey’s 1962 novel ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST is regarded as one of the greatest American films of all time, and a personal favourite of mine. It won the ‘Big Five Academy Awards’, Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Adapted Screenplay.
Set in an Oregon psychiatric hospital, it centres on the rebellious and free-spirited con-man, Randle McMurphy, who is transferred from a prison work farm. Louise Fletcher collected the Oscar for her portrayal of his nemesis, the tyrannical and stereotypical ‘battle-axe’ head nurse Ratched. In her acceptance speech she thanked her deaf parents in sign language.
Nurse Ratched was named as the fifth greatest villain in film history and the second greatest villainess behind the Wicked Witch of the West in THE WIZARD OF OZ by the American Film Institute. In an interview Louise said that Ratched’s 1940’s hairstyle was “a symbol that life stopped for her a long time ago.” Louise also won the BAFTA and a Golden Globe Award.
I sent Louise this sketch to her Los Angeles agency, which she kindly signed and posted back last week.
Veteran Australian actor Hugo Weaving returned to the London stage last month in the National Theatre’s production of Fredrich Durrenmatt’s visionary 1956 revenge play THE VISIT or THE OLD LADY COMES TO CALL, directed by Jeremy Herrin. Adapted by Tony Kushner and set in mid-twentieth century, in Slurry, a poverty-stricken industrial town in Western, New York where billionaire heiress Claire Zachanassian returns after leaving 45 years earlier as a pregnant 16 year-old to seek revenge on her former lover Alfred Ill, who dumped her back then. The locals hope her arrival signals a change in their fortunes, but they soon realise that prosperity will only come at a terrible price. Hugo played Alfred and Lesley Melville was Claire.
The production unfortunately was cancelled in mid-March due to the coronavirus pandemic, but Hugo signed and returned my drawing of him as Alfred I left at the National’s stage door before final curtain.
Jim Carter’s portrayal of Charles Carson in the hugely successful and popular British historical drama DOWNTON ABBEY (2010-2015) is one of his most recognisable roles in a long and distinguished screen and stage career that began when he dropped out of his law studies at the University of Sussex fifty plus years ago to join a Brighton fringe theatre group for five quid a week, plus free board and lodgings.
His big stage break came with the National Theatre’s 1982 revival of GUYS AND DOLLS directed by Richard Eyre. At the same time he met his wife-to-be, Imelda Staunton, who was also in the show and they later appeared together in THE WIZARD OF OZ for the Royal Shakespeare Company – Imelda as Dorothy and Jim as the cowardly lion.
His film credits include THE MADNESS OF KING GEORGE (1994), RICHARD III (1995), BRASSED OFF (1996) and SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE (1998), which won the Outstanding Performance by a Cast Screen Actors Guild Award and the Oscar for Best Picture. On the small screen, Jim has appeared in so many, THE BILL, MIDSOMER MURDERS, ZORRO, CASUALTY, CRANFORD and THE SINGING DETECTIVE to name a few. Created and co-written by Julian Fellowes, DOWNTON ABBEY is based on the lives of the aristocratic Crawley family and their domestic servants in the fictional Yorkshire country estate of Downton Abbey during the early part of the 20th Century.
Jim played a leading role as Mr Carson, the butler who is In charge of the male staff, the pantry, wine cellar and the dining room. Mr Carson is described as having a ‘fatherly disposition over the other servants’ while making sure that their duties are carried out to his exacting standards. For his portrayal Jim has received four Primetime Emmy nominations and has twice won the SAG Award for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble. He also reprised the role for the 2019 film version. Jim received the OBE for services to drama last year.
He signed my sketch last month at the Kiln Theatre in North London, where he was hosting a fundraising event with the screening of the 2014 film PRIDE followed by a cast Q&A.
Rosamud Pike played the ‘Blonde’ in Terry Johnson’s HITCHCOCK BLONDE, which opened at London’s Royal Court theatre in April 2003, before transferring to the Lyric in Shaftesbury Ave in the West End. The play interweaves between three time zones – a 1919 short film featuring a blonde woman that later fascinated ‘the master of suspense’, influential English film director Alfred Hitchcock, 1959, during the filming of his best-known film PSYCHO, where the blonde acts as a body double for Janet Leigh in the famous shower scene and in 1999 when a media studies professor and one of his students, a blonde woman, discover the 1919 short film and re-examine Hitchcock’s work through its lens.
Rosamund’s screen credits include her role as undercover M16 double agent Miranda Frost in the 2002 Bond film DIE ANOTHER DAY with Pierce Brosnan and the disappearing wife, Amy Dunne in David Fincher’s 2014 psychological thriller GONE GIRL, earning her SAG, Golden Globe, BAFTA and Academy Award nominations. This year she won a Primetime Emmy for her performance as Louise in the British Comedy about a disintegrating marriage, STATE OF THE UNION.
Rosamund was a guest on Dermot O’Leary’s BBC Radio 2 show at its studios in Wogan House earlier this month to discuss her latest role as Nobel Prize-winning Polish scientist Marie Curie in RADIOACTIVE, where she signed my sketch.
British punk and experimental rock group The Clash’s landmark double-album LONDON CALLING, was released in the winter of 1979. To mark the 40th Anniversary, the British Film Institute screened Don Lett’s Grammy Award-winning doco, THE CLASH: WESTWAY TO THE WORLD, forty years to the day on 14 December 2019 with the band’s original members Mick Jones and Paul Simonon in attendance.
The apocalyptic, politically charged title track, written by the late Joe Strummer and Mick was influenced by the BBC World Service call signal and the panic that resulted in the Three Mile Island nuclear scare. The era-defining record is regarded as one of the greatest rock albums ever recorded. It was voted the Best Album of the 1980’s a decade later by Rolling Stone ranking it number 8 of all time and, in 2004 The Clash were ranked at number 28 on it’s Top 100 Greatest Artists of All Time list.
The iconic cover design by Ray Lowry was based on Elvis Presley’s self-titled 1956 debut LP. It features the classic photo by Pennie Smith of the band’s bass guitarist Paul Simonon smashing his Fender Precision guitar in frustration at the bouncers stopping audience members from standing up out of their seats on the Palladium’s stage in New York on 20 December 1979. Pennie thought the image was too far out of focus and didn’t want it used, but Joe and Ray thought otherwise. In 2001 Q magazine called it the best ever rock ‘n roll photo, commenting, “it captured the ultimate rock and roll moment – total loss of control”. It also selected it the 9th best album cover design of all time.
I drew this montage sketch of Paul, including his immortalised instrument demolition, but my attempts to get it signed at the BFI event was thwarted by the large gathering of fans with similar ambitions, so I sent it to his home and he kindly signed and returned it.
The Museum of London also hosted an exclusive exhibition, LONDON CALLING:40 YEARS OF THE CLASH featuring over 100 personal items including Paul’s broken fender, which I visited last November.
Greg Jenner’s new book, ‘Dead Famous’ is launched today. The public historian and University of York Alumni is known for his entertaining and engaging communication of history through pop culture and humour. He is the consultant on the HORRIBLE HISTORIES books and TV series and the BAFTA-nominated HORRIBLE HISTORIES: THE MOVE- ROTTEN ROMANS. He also wrote the action-packed bestseller ‘A Million Years in a Day’. Greg is also an Hon Research Associate at Royal Holloway, University of London.
His latest publication, researched and written over the past four years, ‘Dead Famous: An Unexpected History of Celebrity, From Bronze Age to Silver Screen’ is a romp through the story of fame and fanhood. It explores the notion of ‘celebrity’ –which he claims is not a recent phenomenon– from its beginnings 300 years ago to the 1950’s, packed with anecdotes of famed individuals. He insists he’s ‘an historian of celebrity’ and not a ‘celebrity historian’, a term used in his Wikipedia page, which he is uncomfortable about.
Fara Dabhoiwala’s review in The Guardian said, “Jenner is equal parts wide-eyed historical buff and sassy polemist… who can’t help but entertain you, even as he’s pouring facts down your throat.” One chapter is entitled ‘The Fandom Menance’ and he describes Lord Byron as a “talented, pouty shag merchant with lustrous hair,” or Florence Nightingale as a “badass epidemiologist with a perch ant for pie chart innovation.” He even includes one of the Europe’s biggest celebrities, a 5,000 pound Indian rhino called Clara in the 1740’s. Greg’s personal favourite is alcoholic and celebrated Shakespearean actor Edmund Kean, who was nearly murdered by his own audience in the 1820’s.
My wife Frankie, who’s a big fan of Greg’s BBC Sounds podcast YOU’RE DEAD TO ME, and I joined a freshly hand sanitized, pandemic aware audience at the impressive Southwark Cathedral near London Bridge last week to hear Greg deliver an illustrated intro to ‘Dead Famous’ and sign advanced copies… as well as this quick sketch I did of him.
Victoria Hamilton returned to the Almeida Theatre stage as the formidable matriarch Audrey in the revival of Mike Bartlett’s state-of-the-nation play ALBION last month. Directed by Rupert Gould, it premiered in October 2017. Audrey is a mover and shaker in her mid-50’s who sells up in London to live in a seven-bedroom crumbling estate she knew as a child. She plans to restore it to its former glory, including designing the garden as a memorial to her dead son who lost his life in war and his fellow veterans.
“Victoria Hamilton is on breathtaking form as a grieving mother in richly layered play inspired by Chekhov’s THE CHERRY ORCHARD.” wrote the Guardian’s Michael Billington in his original review.
Victoria has been nominated for two Olivier Awards, the first for her portrayal of Sheila in A DAY IN THE DEATH OF JOE EGG opposite Clive Owen and Eddie Izzard. The production transferred to Broadway, where Victoria was also nominated for a Tony. Her second Oliver nom was for her 2004 role as Catharine in Tennessee William’s SUDDENLY LAST SUMMER at the Lyceum Theatre in London. She won the London Critics’ Circle Theatre and Evening Standard Awards.
TV viewers will be familiar with Victoria as the younger Queen Victoria in the historical drama series, VICTORIA & ALBERT (2001) and as the Queen Mother in Netflix’s THE CROWN, which earned the cast successive Screen Actors Guild Award nominations in 2017 and 2018. She also plays Anna in DOCTOR FOSTER and this year’s COBRA, as the British Prime Minister’s Head of Staff, Anna Maxwell.
Victoria signed my sketch of her as Audrey at the Almeida Theatre on the show’s final day at the end of February.
At 23 years of age, American actress Kaitlyn Dever’s career has already past a decade, with 15 films and ten TV shows on her impressive CV, resulting in eight Award nominations, including a Golden Globe and the BAFTA Rising Star Award. Starting in 2009 with her first notable role as Gwen Thompson, a homeless girl in AN AMERICAN GIRL: CHRISSA STANDS STRONG. Two years later she appeared in the Clint Eastwood-directed J.EDGAR.
Three films in the past two years has cemented her reputation as one to watch, playing Lauren in the biographical drama BEAUTIFUL BOY with Timothee Chalamet in 2018, followed by Dilly Picket in the thriller THEM THAT FOLLOW opposite Oscar-winner Olivia Coleman and Amy Antsler in the coming-of-age comedy BOOKSMART last year. Kaitlyn’s small screen successes include her recurring role as no-nonsense teen Loretta McCready in JUSTIFIED between 2011-2015 and as Tim Allen’s daughter Eve Baxter in LAST MAN STANDING since 2011. Last year she was nominated for a Golden Globe for her portrayal of sexual assault victim Marie Adler in the Netflix miniseries UNBELIEVABLE.
Kaitlyn signed my sketch at a British Academy event involving the nominees for the Rising Star Award at London’s Savoy Hotel, the day before this year’s BAFTA ceremony in early February.
As the ever enthusiastic gastronaut I was watching the first episode of the ITV’s mini-series INSIDE THE RITZ HOTEL one lazy Sunday afternoon a few weeks ago. It featured the famous Piccadilly Hotel’s venerable Executive Chief John Williams and the launch of The Ritz’s first ever cookbook, compiled by him and containing its most famous signature recipes, including the Roast Scallops Bergamot and Avocado, the Saddle of Lamb Belle Époque and the Grand Marnier Soufflé. The recipes are said to be ‘simple to the seasonal, to the signature and the sublime.’
I thought he would make a great addition to my collection, drawing this quick sketch, I posted it to him for signing. South Shields-born, on England’s North East coast and the son of a Tyneside fisherman, John’s culinary career began peeling spud’s in his mum’s kitchen. He moved to London at the age of 16 and after working at the Royal Garden, Claridges and The Berkeley Hotels he arrived at The Ritz in 2004 as the Executive Chef. Seen by many as the symbol of high society and luxury it is described as one of the best dining experiences you’ll ever have or in my case ever wish to have.
The fortunate diner is spoiled for choice with The Ritz Restaurant, which was awarded it’s first Michelin Star in 2017, the iconic Palm Court, the legendary Rivoli Bar, six private dining suites not to mention room service. It is the recipient of a Royal Warrant for Banqueting and Catering Services from HRH The Prince of Wales-the first and only Hotel to receive the prestigious accolade.
John himself has been personally recognised with numerous awards, including the Pierre Taittinger International prize, known as the ‘Everest of Gastronomy’ and the Craft Guild of Chefs Award in 2000. In 2005 he was the first British Chef to be conferred with the CMA by the French Government for his contribution to French cuisine. He was made a Member of the British Empire in 2008.
His favourite dish? The lobster with lemon verbena, which has had a few variations over the years. It used to be accompanied by a spiced carrot purée, but now it’s served with a vegetable tagliatelle.
As you can see John kindly signed and returned my drawing.