The hugely popular 2015 Broadway revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s 1951 classic musical THE KING AND I transferred to to the London Palladium for the summer with both its leads making their West End debuts. Ken Watanabe and Kelli O’Hara reprised their roles as the King of Siam and English schoolteacher Anna Leonowens in this unconventional and tempestuous relationship, set in Bangkok in the 1860’s.
Bartlett Sher’s lavish Lincoln Centre Theatre production was nominated for 9 Tony Awards, winning four, including the Best Actress award for Kelli and a nom for Ken. Due to demand, the London season was extended by an extra three weeks, finishing last Saturday.
In her WhatsOnStage review, Daisy Bowie-Sell wrote, “Overall the two make a superb double act… Kelli O’Hara is made for the part, her acting skills and delicate rich voice come together to imbue Anna with an engaging compassion and humanity… Ken is brilliantly funny, sharp and betrays moments of convincing vulnerability.”
I left this sketch at the stage door and it came back signed by both.
One of my favourite filmmakers is British director Paul Greengrass… in fact he’s one of the nicest people in the business. I have been fortunate to meet him on a few occasions and he has always been nothing less than affable, ‘cheerful and deeply untortured’ as Danny Leigh described him in his Financial Times interview.
The most recent occasion was just over a week ago. He was sitting in the BFI having a quiet coffee, before taking part in a special event about his work with broadcaster Mark Kermode. I interrupted the serenity with a sig request on my sketch. He was nothing less than affable, cheerful, even deeply untortured and accommodating.
An Alma Mater of Queen’s College, Cambridge, Paul joined the ITV current affairs programme WORLD IN ACTION in the 1980’s. He co-authored the book SPYCATCHER, with Peter Wright, former assistant director of M15, which the British government tried to ban due to its sensitive content, ensuring its profit and notoriety. Paul’s background in TV journalism marks his signature visual style, what he calls ‘the unknowing camera’ – often hand-held, never keeping pace with events happening half a second ahead. He makes action thrillers with brains and startling realism, inspired by real-world events such as UNITED 93, his 2006 film about the fate of United Flight 93, one of the planes hijacked on September 11, 2001 that crashed near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, when passengers foiled the terrorist plot.
Paul was honoured with an Oscar nomination and won the BAFTA for his direction. He was also nominated for a Writers Guild Award for the original screenplay. Paul’s latest film, 22 JULY, based on Norway’s largest terrorist attack is set to be Netflix biggest global theatrical release.
The intro to Alice Fraser’s bio states, “Alice is an award-winning writer, broadcaster, performer and comedian.” It then follows with, “She’s also an ex-academic, ex-corporate lawyer and (sort of) banjo player. “The Australian-born comic, who is now a popular regular on the UK scene, completed a law degree at Sydney University and then a Masters in English Lit at Cambridge, where she also came under the influence of the infamous Footlights theatre club, followed by a stint in New York’s cut-throat comedy scene before landing back in Blighty”. Continuing her bio… “Alice does reliably silly, unpredictably meaningful unorthodox, gut-punch comedy.”
Among the many satirical things Alice does is her semi-regular hosting spot (referred to by one commentator as ‘a frequenter’) on the long-running podcast THE BUGLE with Andy Zaltzman, on which she mentioned she would sign anything given to her. So I left this sketch at The Colonel Fawcett in Camden a few weeks ago where she was part of the Monday evening Good Ship Comedy troupe and true to her word it came back, signed. You can finish reading Alice’s bio and find out where she will be to get stuff signed on www.alicecomedyfraser.com.
Twenty-three year old Irish actor Chris Walley knew from the age of eight that he wanted to be an actor because he ‘just loves entertaining people.’ When he left school, he immediately applied for RADA in London, but was unsuccessful. So he returned home to full time study at the Cork School of Music in the BA Drama and Theatre Studies programme. A year later he reapplied to RADA and was offered one of the coveted 28 places from 3,500 applicants.
He starred as Jock in Peter Foott’s film THE YOUNG OFFENDERS, which became an instant hit at the Irish box office and garnered Chris several award nominations. The subsequent TV series was equally popular, winning Chris an IFTA Award. He made his West End debut in June this year as Davey in Martin McDonagh’s dark comedy THE LIEUTENANT OF INISHMORE opposite Aidan Turner, directed by Michael Grandage at the Noel Coward Theatre and received exceptional reviews.
TimeOut’s Andrzej Lukowski wrote, “in a uniformly strong cast, special praise should go to Walley. A virtual unknown, he is excruciatingly brilliant as the mullet-clad Davey who meets each new indignity heaped upon him with an impressive mix of resignation and hysteria.” He was nominated for TheStage Debut Award.
Chris signed my drawing at the stage door during the plays final week earlier this month.
Claire Price joined the cast of Jonathan Munby’s KING LEAR, for its limited West End transfer to the Duke of York’s, after the productions critically acclaimed sell-out run at Chichester’s Minerva Theatre.
Claire plays the ruthless, uptight older sister Goneril… described by one reviewer as a ‘Sloaney, (for those not familiar with the term, it’s a portmanteau of Sloane Square in London’s Chelsea, famed for the wealth and affluent lifestyle of its residents) pearls-and-headscarf Goneril’.
Claire is no stranger to Shakespeare. Previous roles include Beatrice in MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING, Miranda in THE TEMPEST and Rosalind in AS YOU LIKE IT. She’s also well known to UK TV viewers as DS Siobhan Clarke in REBUS and many guest appearances on popular shows such as AGATHA CHRISTIE’S POIROT and MIDSOMER MURDERS.
Thankfully Claire is the complete opposite to her LEAR stage persona and signed my sketch at the stage door, heading in for last Saturday’s matinee, one of the 100 performances scheduled to finish in early November.
Award-winning London-based Irish actress Elaine Cassidy has spent most of her stage time over the past four years at the Donmar Warehouse and the majority of that under the direction of Lyndsay Turner in Brian Friel plays. In 2014 she appeared in the late, great Irish dramatist’s – often referred to as the Irish Ckekov – adaptation of Russian novelist Ivan Turgenev’s best known work, FATHER AND SONS and returned this year in his haunting 1979 piece ARISTOCRATS, a play about a generation whose past threatens to obliterate its future, which finished its two month run last weekend.
It’s the first major revival of this minor modern classic since Brian’s death three years ago. In between the two productions, Elaine stepped in at the 11th hour to replace Michelle Dockery in LES LIASIONS DANGEREUSES. Central to the ARISTOCRATS are the damaged O’Donnell sibblings, who gather at their crumbling family home, Ballybeg Hall in Donegal for the marriage of sister Claire. It’s a far cry from the former glory days. Elaine played Alice, an alcoholic, described by Paul Taylor in his Independent review as ‘elegantly sozzled’ with ‘brutal fits of self- awareness.’
She signed my sketch at the Donmar during the final week of the production.
“It’s not about refugees, it’s about humans,” said Syrian actor Ammar Haj Ahmad in a recent interview about the theatrical phenomenon, THE JUNGLE in which he stars and leads a multinational, multiethnic cast, vividly recreating the life in the sprawling makeshift camp called ‘the jungle’ in Calais on France’s northern coast, where thousands gathered from all corners of the world to escape war and terror, hoping to cross the English Channel and build a new life.
Ammar plays Safi, the main spokesperson for the Jungle’s inhabitants, who also functions in the play as the guide and chronicler. In 2011, Ammar was a cast member in a production of the Arabian classic ONE THOUSAND AND ONE NIGHTS, which completed its global tour in Edinburgh. His visa ran out, but the crisis back in this homeland had escalated to the point where he felt he could not return. He contacted the British Home Office to apply for asylum and the 36 year-old has not returned to Syria since.
The Broadway-bound National Theatre and Young Vic co-production with the playwrighters Joe Murphy and Joe Robertson’s Good Chance Theatre premiered at the Young Vic last November. Directed by Stephen Daldry and Justin Martin, it transferred across the river to the Embankment’s Playhouse Theatre earlier this year where it resides until 3 November before crossing a bigger stretch of water to New York.
The sell-out production received a powerful reaction. Audiences and critics were blown away. The Telegraph’s Dominic Cavendish has called it “the most important play in the West End.” The immersive nature of the play, which transports everyone into the jungle itself is “an experience we do together- actors and audience,” said Ammar. “I am truly grateful to be part of theatre that makes a difference.”
I met Ammar at the stage door after a Saturday matinee a few weeks ago where he signed my sketch.
Danny Webb’s extensive stage career includes moments of blindness, two grisly moments in fact, both critically acclaimed. The latest can be seen in Jonathan Munby’s ‘dazzling’ production of Shakespeare’s KING LEAR at the Duke of York’s Theatre.
Playing the Earl of Gloucester in the Chichester Festival Theatre’s West End transfer, opposite Sir Ian McKellen’s tragic monarch, Danny is tied to a chair while his eyes are gouged out, cited by one critic as channeling Quentin Tarantino’s RESERVOIR DOGS. The blinding of Gloucester scene is considered by many who consider these things as structurally and conceptually the play’s centre piece.
Eight years ago Danny won the Off West End Best Actor Award for his portrayal of Ian, a seedy, hard-drinking journo in the revival of Sarah Kane’s provocative BLASTED at the Lyric Hammersmith. Set in a luxury hotel room in Leeds, Ian and his much younger girlfriend Cate’s tryst intentions are dramatically interrupted by a soldier with a sniper’s rifle and an explosion that reduces everything to a shattered ruin. Cate escapes, but Ian is anally raped and his eyes sucked out by the menacing military man.
He signed my Shakespeare sketch a few weeks back after a matinee performance at the Duke of York’s before he returned to have his eyes ripped out that evening.
‘Spike Lee Joints’ typically refers to the acclaimed American director’s films. His latest joint, BLACKKKLANSMAN is regarded as his “most accessible and narratively satisfying movie in over a decade.” Critics have called it a return to form for the socially conscious auteur, winning the Grand Prix at this year’s Cannes Film Festival and being nominated for the Palm d’Or. It is based on the 2014 memoirs of Ron Stallworth, the first African-American detective in the Colorado Springs Police Department who sets out to infiltrate and expose the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan.
Among his many accolades, Spike has received both an Honorary BAFTA and Oscar, with the later citing “a champion of independent film and an inspiration to young filmmakers.”
After Cannes, Spike attended a screening of BLACKKKLANSMAN at the BFI in London followed by a Q+A. I had hoped to get my sketch signed at the event, but he arrived and apologised, said he had to quickly get into the auditorium, but would see us afterwards. I was unable to wait so I sent the drawing to his film company in Brooklyn, New York and it came back signed and dedicated.
Kiwi comic Rose Matafeo won the top comedy gong at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival last month with her show HORNDOG. The 26 year-old New Zealander of Samoan and Scottish/Croatian heritage, who has been honing her standup skills since the age of 15 is only the fifth woman to take the coveted Best Show Award.
The ad for HORNDOG reads that Rose ‘has kissed 10 men in her life, AKA she’s a total horndog.’ It chronicles her barely functioning love life and mid-20’s angst. Her definition of ‘horniness’ is “girls putting 100% into something that’s not worth it.” They’re looking for a passionate relationship rather than love. As a film-mad, geeky teenager she had no luck with boys, so when dating happened she became obsessed. “Go hard or go home” was her MO.
In his review, the Guardian’s Brian Logan wrote, “…a volcanic eruption of standup… Matafeo’s neurosis, intelligence and flamboyant sense of her own ridiculousness make her a near-perfect comedian.”
I caught up with the charismatic Rose after her second show at London’s Soho Theatre where she’s performing HORNDOG until the end of month and she signed my drawing.