Drawing: Ang Lee

Autographed Drawing of director Ang Lee

One of the most accomplished and popular contemporary filmmakers, Taiwanese-American director Ang Lee was ranked 27th in the Guardian’s top 40 directors and 41st in a list of greatest directors of all time in a 2007 poll conducted by Total Film magazine. Ang is also one of the nicest people in the business. I have a had the privilege of meeting him on a number of occasions over the past few years.

His 15 feature films have received a truck load of accolades, including 38 Oscar nominations (four for Best Picture) with 12 wins, 49 BAFTA nominations for 24 wins and 23 Golden Globe nominations for nine wins. Personally he has received five Academy Award nominations, winning two for Best Director for LIFE OF PI in 2013 and BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN in 2006. He has won five BAFTAS, including Best Film for SENSE AND SENSIBILITY (1995) and the Fellowship in 2020 for his Outstanding Contributions to British Cinema. He has also been the recipient of a number of honours and decorations, including a Knight of the French Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (2012) and the Legion of Honor (2021) from the French Government in the same year he received the Presidential Culture Award from Taiman’s president Thai-Ing-wen.

I sent this sketch to Ang to his home in New York State last year with a signing request and received a very nice reply from his wife Jane, thanking me for my letter and informing me that Ang was working in New Zealand and due to the covid restrictions was going to be there for some time, but as soon as he returned home she would make sure he signed and returned it, which is exactly what happened.

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: Iga Swiatek

Autographed drawing of tennis player Iga Swiatek

The 2020 French Open was postponed from May until the end of September and early October due to the restrictions imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic. Paris in Autumn is a lot different to Paris in the Spring. The famous red clay at the Stade Roland Garros was damper, the temperature colder and the balls heavier with a lower bounce – ideal conditions for Polish teenager Iga Swiatek to excel and dominate the women’s singles, winning her maiden WTA and first Grand Slam singles title, easily defeating Sofia Kenin from the US in straight sets in the final. Her all-court play with a crushing forehand, ability to defend stoutly, ruthless determination and her quick transition onto attack were all characteristics that contributed to her victory.

Eighteen months later, the 20 year-old is now world No 1, after winning the Miami Open final last weekend and the shock retirement of the former top ranked player, Aussie Ash Barty. After winning back-to-back titles at Doha and Indian Wells Iga has now won her past six finals, extending her winning streak to 17 matches. She entered the top 10 last May after winning the Italian Open and any thoughts of becoming the world’s best player was a possibility “in a few years”. It was obviously accelerated by Ash’s decision, but given her form this year, including reaching the semifinals at the Australian Open, she may have very well taken the number one spot anyway.

I drew this quick sketch of Iga, after watching her French Open triumph and sent it to her via the Polish Tennis Federation. It came back signed and dedicated within a fortnight.

Drawing: Ari Wegner

Autographed drawing of cinematographer Ari Wegner

In 2018 Ari Wegner received a phone call from New Zealand director Jane Campion, enquiring about her availability for the next two years. The brilliant Australian cinematographer immediately signed on to lens Jane’s first feature film in twelve years, the revisionist and submissive western THE POWER OF THE DOG, based on Thomas Savage’s 1967 novel about charismatic Montana rancher Phil Burbank, who inspires fear and awe in those around him.

Jane specifically wanted a female cinematographer. The Western was traditionally a masculine genre, but she wanted to approach it from a feminine point. Although Ari stressed that gender was only one of the many, many elements when you are viewing the dynamics of desire. Poetically, it was Jane’s 1983 short film PASSIONLESS MOMENTS, which her High School Media Studies teacher showed her that inspired Ari’s interest in film, eventually specialising in cinematography, completing her studies at the prestigious Victoria College of the Arts in her home town of Melbourne. Subsequently they worked together on an ad campaign for an Australian bank.

Photographing THE POWER OF THE DOG both invigorated and terrified her, Ari said in a recent New York Times interview. “You don’t want to be the DOP of the only Jane Campion film that didn’t look any good.” She said they clicked immediately, sharing both a similar aesthetic and an obsession with preparation. Jane said Ari was “good at working on problems until they’re solved, which is very reassuring.” They had the luxury of a year in pre-production. Jane rented a house in Central Otago in New Zealand’s South Island, which doubled as 1920’s Montana, where they spent each day drawing meticulous storyboards and scouting locations.

Ari’s influences included the work of English photographer Evelyn Cameron, who moved to Montana at the turn of the Twentieth century and Ken Burns’ documentary series THE WEST. The paintings of Andrew Wyeth and Lucian Freud were also additional points of reference. She also researched the rugged landscape of the American State before the the actual shoot took place in 2020, interrupted by the pandemic and lockdown restrictions.

Ari’s breathtaking cinematography rightfully garnered many accolades as THE POWER OF THE DOG became the most celebrated film of the year. She made history, becoming the first woman in the British Society of Cinematographers 73-year history to win its feature prize and then receive a BAFTA nomination. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has only ever nominated two female cinematographers for the Oscar, Rachel Morrison in 2018 for MUDBOUND and this year, Ari. She also won a number of Film Critic’s Circle honours including Best Cinematography at the Critics Choice Awards, where the film also won Best Picture and Jane collected both Director and Adapted Screenplay Awards.

I meet Ari to get my sketch signed, when she was in London for the BFI London Film Festival last October. She immediately recognised my kiwi accent. I told her I was very familiar with the landscapes that her phenomenal photography captured having lived there most of my life.

Drawing: Jane Campion

Autographed drawing of director Jane Campion

It was a proud night to be a New Zealander after kiwi auteur Dame Jane Campion won the Academy Award for Best Director at this year’s Oscar ceremony on Sunday evening for helming THE POWER OF THE DOG, her universally acclaimed modernist western based on Thomas Savage’s 1967 novel of the same title.

The psychological drama became one of the most celebrated films of the year, reflected in its 12 Academy Award nominations including Best Picture and certainly the most honoured – with nearly 250 wins from over 300 noms – dominating all 10 Best Lists and Year-End critic groups’ Awards since its world premiere at the 78th Venice Film Festival last September, where Jane won the Silver Lion for Best Direction. She became the first woman to receive two Best Director Oscar nominations and the third to win the category.

The first was for THE PIANO in 1994, losing to Steven Spielberg for SCHLINDLER’S LIST. She did however collect the golden statue for her screenplay written directly for the screen. Steven was also nominated this year for Best Director, for his remake of WEST SIDE STORY. A couple of weeks prior to the Dolby Theatre ceremony, Jane won the BAFTA for Best Film and Direction, the Directors Guild Award and the Crictics Choice Awards for Picture, Direction and Adapted Screenplay all within a few hours of each other, which pretty much summed up the her whirlwind year. The self-proclaimed ‘shy extrovert’ collected just about every accolade going.

Author and academic Dana Polan stated in his 2001 book that Jane Campion is one of the few female directors who can be considered an auteur… “it is the disturbances in her work – the divergences, the dispersions, the tensions, for instance between quirky humour, making strange of the familiar and an interest in the ambiguous, even that which is uncomfortable and which makes the viewer uncomfortable.”

Glenn Whipp, writing recently in the LA Times summarized her contribution to cinema. “She has long been celebrated as an iconoclast, a woman whose radiant films meld beauty and barbarism in their depiction of the world and the flawed humans inhabiting it” Jane was the only woman to win the converted Palme d’Or at the 1993 Cannes Film Festival for THE PIANO until French director Julia Docournau won last year for TITANE, who presented her with the Lumiere Prize (considered to be cinema’s Nobel Prize) at the Lumiere film festival in Lyon in October.

I caught up with Jane last October at the BFI Southbank after her Screentalk at the London Film Festival, prior to the gala screening of THE POWER OF THE DOG, where we had brief chat and an antipodean connection while kindly signing my quick 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: Stephen Sondheim

Autographed drawing of Stephen Sondheim

Stephen Sondheim, ‘the Titan of American Musical Theatre’, passed away at his home in the small town of Roxbury, Connecticut on 26 November at the age of 91. Lights were dimmed in early December at all venues on Broadway and the West End, where he has theatres named after him. He was considered the theatre’s most revered and influential composer-lyricist of the last half of the 20th Century.

The New York Times former theatre critic, Frank Rich, wrote, “Stephen Sondheim was the greatest and perhaps best-known artist in the American musical theatre.” In case you need reminding, here is why: WEST SIDE STORY (1957), GYPSY (1959), A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM (1962), COMPANY (1970), FOLLIES (1971), A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC (1973 – including one of my favourite songs,’Send In The Clowns’), his best; SWEENY TODD: THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET (1979), MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG (1981), SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE (1984), INTO THE WOODS (1987), ASSASSINS (1990) and PASSION (1994).

Among his many accolades, Steve collected eight Tony and Grammy Awards, six Oliviers, A Pulitzer (for SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE) and an Oscar for Best Original Song – ‘Sooner or Later’ from DICK TRACY (1990), sung by Madonna. He also received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Obama in 2015.

A frequent visitor to London, I had the honour of meeting him on a couple of occasions, the first at the Royal Festival Hall’s Artist Entrance in October 2010, when he was interviewed by Jude Kelly. By that time he had stopped signing autographs and politely declined my request along with a handful of people waiting with similar intent. I was pre-warned when I wrote to him and received a reply, apologising, but after years of accommodating fans he had decided to discontinue the practice.

However, a year earlier I did manage to acquire a signed autograph album page from an American collector. I drew this quick portrait sketch last week and added the sig in remembrance of the great man.

RIP Steve.

Drawing: Michael Pennington as Prospero

Tom Littler’s production of THE TEMPEST at the Jermyn Street Theatre in London, featuring Michael Pennington as Prospero, opened in March 2020 for a five week season. After only six performances it was forced to close due to the Covid lockdown. Eighteen months later it set sail again, and even though the Omnicron variant, currently rampaging through the West End, is causing show disruptions, the production looks likely to complete its rescheduled run this week.

One of the foremost Shakespearean actors of his generation, Michael’s distinguished career is dominated by a variety of leading stage roles for the Royal Shakespeare Company, the National Theatre and the English Shakespeare Company, which he co-founded and was its Artistic Director from 1986-1992. The four-time Olivier Award nominee has also toured two solo shows; SWEET WILLIAM and ANTON CHEKHOV worldwide. Earlier this year he released a memoir, entitled ‘In My Own Footsteps’.

“Being taken to the theatre when I was 11 years old lit a light in me, and that light has never gone out.”Michael’s latest stage performmance drew universal acclaim.  In the West End’s smallest producing theatre, he is “a colossal Prospero”, wrote Broadway World. The Guardian’s Arifa Akbar said, “The magic spark in this production lies largely in Pennington’s Prospero… a physically wizened but still mighty magician and displaced Duke.

“Michael also has a number of screen appearances to his impressive credit list, including CALLAN, THE BILL, THE TUDORS and FATHER BROWN on television and as Moff Jerjerrod in STAR WARS: RETURN OF THE JEDI (1983) and Michael Foot in THE IRON LADY (2011) on the big screen.

I met Michael a couple of weekends ago as he arrived at the Jermyn Street Theatre for a Saturday matinee, where he kindly signed my Prospero portrait for me.