Drawing: Arabella Neale and Emily Plumtree in The Mousetrap

Autographed drawing of Arabella Neale in The Mousetrap at St Martin's Theatre on London's West EndAutographed drawing of Emily Plumbtree in The Mousetrap at St Martin's Theatre on London's West End

Continuing my recent ritual of rendering the roles of Miss Casewell, the proprietor of Monkswell Manor and the strange, aloof Molly Ralston after each cast change in Agatha Christie’s classic murder mystery THE MOUSETRAP at St Martin’s Theatre in London, I caught up with Arabella Neale and Emily Plumtree just before Christmas, who both kindly signed their respective sketches. Described as the ‘best-selling novelist of all time’, Dame Agatha initially wrote the play for radio in the late 1940’s, calling it THREE BLIND MICE. With the title changed, THE MOUSETRAP opened in the West End in 1952 and now, in its 67th year, is the longest initial run of any play in the history of modern theatre, passing 27,500 performances in September last year.

Amongst Arabella’s high profile stage roles, are Madame Thernardier in LES MISERABLES, Beatrice in MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING and the Duchess in THE DUCHESS OF MALFI. She recently featured in the award-winning BBC television mini-series A VERY ENGLISH SCANDAL opposite Hugh Grant.

ENDEAVOUR, HOLYOAKS and DOCTORS are among Emily’s list of small-screen credits. Her theatre work includes the part of Nerissa in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of THE MERCHANT OF VENICE, which she reprised at the Almeida Theatre in London, both directed by Rupert Goold. She was nominated for an Off West End Theatre Award for her performance as Anita in MY GIRL 2.

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Drawing: Denis Conway, Ciaran Dowd, Farzana Dua Elahe, Niall McNamee, Shane O’Regan, Donal Finn and Niamh Bracken in Chasing Bono

Autographed drawing of Denis Conway, Ciaran Dowd, Farzana Dua Elahe, Naill McNamee, Shane O'Regan, Donal Finn and Niamh Bracken in Chasing Bono at London's Soho Theatre

The pencil thin line between success and failure is vividly illustrated in the 90 minute play CHASING BONO, which has just completed its run at London’s Soho Theatre on Saturday.

In the 1970’s, Neil McCormack and Paul Henson, schoolmates at Mount Temple Comprehensive in Dublin shared the same ambition, to form bands and become global superstars. Paul changed his name to Bono and formed U2. Neil didn’t. The latter, the Telegraph’s esteemed chief pop and rock critic, is a successful author, radio pundit and television presenter, none of which remotely compensates for being a failed rock star. It was probably worse for his brother Ivan, who was offered a spot in Paul’s band ‘Feedback’, renamed ‘The Hype’ before becoming U2. But Neil persuaded him to stick with his group for a guaranteed shot at stardom.

CHASING BONO was written by ‘master mirth-makers’ Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais (THE LIKELY LADS, PORRIDGE, AUF WIEDERSEHEN, PET and THE COMMITMENTS) and is a stage adaption of their darker 2011 film KILLING BONO, which in turn was based on Neil’s 2003 memoirs, ‘I was Bono’s Doppelgänger’.

Critic Anne Cox writing in StageReview said it was a “charming piece, packed with cracking Irish humour and good performances… part rock-fable, part whimsy and part ridiculous screwball comedy.”

The cast is lead by Niall McNamee as Neil and Shane O’Regan as Bono, with Denis Conway, Ciaran Dowd, Farzana Dua Elahe, Donal Finn and Niamh Bracken, all of kindly signed my portrait montage for me at the Soho.

Drawing: Dawn French

Autographed drawing of Dawn French

Considered one of Britain’s national treasures; comedian, actress, writer and now pantomime Queen, Dawn French at the age of ‘oh-never-mind’ has finally become part of that other British phenomenon, the Christmas Pantomime, making her debut over the festive season in SNOW WHITE at the London Palladium. Dawn played the wicked Queen Dragonella, a hiss-boo baddie. All agreed, The VICAR OF DIBLEY star’s natural, impish comic persona lends itself perfectly to the madcap genre.

Writing about Dawn’s performance in his Telegraph review, Dominic Cavendish said, “She amazes with a fiendish tongue-twister, she bumps and grinds in an inappropriate cougar fashion, lip-synching to pop hits as she tries to hit on the young prince, and she delivers a wonderfully Dibley denouement.”

Dawn signed off after the final show last weekend on Twitter,”It’s been a blast. OH YES IT HAS!” She also signed my sketch at the stage door.

Drawing: Patsy Ferran and Matthew Needham in Summer and Smoke

Autographed drawing of Patsy Ferran and Matthew Needham in Summer and Smoke at theDuke of York's Theatre on London's West End

The West End transfer of the Rebecca Frecknall’s remarkable Almeida Theatre’s sell-out production of Tennessee Williams’ ‘most neglected work’, SUMMER AND SMOKE continues at the Duke of York’s until Saturday.

Set in a small Mississippi town one hundred years ago it centres on Alma Winemiller, a minister’s daughter and singing teacher who cares for her ailing mother, and her moth-like attraction to John Buchanan, an angry and resentful trainee doctor. It’s a devastating fable of half-requited love, missed moments and the ways we waste what little life we have, summarised in the byline, ‘Trapped between desire and a life of obligation, Alma meets John and her world turns upside-down.’

In his Variety review, Matt Trueman wrote, “It boasts two phenomenal performances at its heart: Patsy Ferran is a quiver of anxiety as Alma; Matthew Needham’s John, a river of despair. You will them together, knowing full well they’re bound to tear each other apart. It’s agonising to watch.”

Patsy and Matthew both signed my sketch late last year at the theatre.

Drawing: Kit Harington and Johnny Flynn in True West

Auotographed drawing of Kit Harington and Johnny Flynn in True West at the Vaudeville Theatre on London's West End

Kit Harington and Johnny Flynn are currently playing warring brothers Austin and Lee until next month in the West End revival of Sam Shephard’s ‘ferociously funny’

TRUE WEST at London’s Vaudeville Theatre. Described as a classic study of sibling rivalry, the 1980 play was a finalist for the Drama Pulitzer Prize. Austin is a clean-cut family man and Hollywood writer who has retreated to his mother’s Southern California home to finish a screenplay. He is disrupted by Lee, his older, feral brother, a petty thief and drifter, who has been wandering the Mojave Dessert for past three months.

In his Guardian review, Michael Billington points out that, “putting it crudely, Austin and Lee are both sides of a single personality – the instinctual and the intellectual aspects of the American character,” and summarises the performances, “At their best, the two actors are very good. Harington is especially convincing in the later stages as Austin unleashes his inner fury, aiming wild, drunken swings at the empty air and threatening to strangle his brother with a whipcord. Flynn also captures Lee’s initial menace as he hovers in a bullying manner over his brother and turns a golf club swing into a virtual death threat.”

Both Kit and Johnny kindly signed my drawing at the stage door prior to Christmas, and not a golf club in sight.

Drawing: Johnetta Eula’Mae Ackles in A Very Very Very Dark Matter

Autographed drawing of Johnetta Eula'Mae Ackles in A Very Very Very Dark Matter at London's Bridge Theatre

Johnetta Eula’Mae Ackles is a very cool name and a very, very cool American actress, who made her professional stage debut late last year in Martin McDonagh’s A VERY VERY VERY DARK MATTER at London’s Bridge Theatre.

The minute Johnetta played a captive Congolese, one-legged pygmy, who is forced to live inside a 3 foot box in the creepy Copenhagen attic of the author Hans Christian Andersen, supplying him with all his stories. Her name is Mbute, but he calls her Marjory.

It’s a “wildly inventive dismantling of the great Danish storyteller,” wrote the Guardian’s Michael Billington in his four-star review. He highlighted two extraordinary performances in particular, one by Jim Broadbent as Andersen and the other by Johnetta, who he called “remarkable… she combines the pathos of the exploited with the wiliness of a time-travelling powerhouse driven by the urge to protect her people.”

I met Johnetta after a Saturday matinee prior to Christmas, where she signed this sketch. The production completed its run last weekend.