Drawing: Freddie Fox in Travesties

For his last West End role Freddie Fox had less than 48 hours notice. It was just the minor part Romeo opposite Lily James in Kenneth Branagh’s ROMEO & JULIET at the Garrick Theatre last year, after the previous lead Richard Madden and his understudy Tom Hanson  took the phrase ‘break a leg’ a bit too literally. He got the call on Friday and “they wanted me on stage Saturday” he said. Technically he knew the role, having played it 10 months earlier at The Crucible in Sheffield. He described the first night as ‘a memory test’ an making sure he stood in the right play and not fall off the stage.

For his next trick, Freddie’s latest stage appearance as the avant-garde dandy Tristan Tzara in Tom Stoppard’s ‘fiendishly-complicated’ TRAVESTIES, he had months to prepare. Directed by Patrick Marber, the Menier Chocolate Factory production sold out before it opened at the off-West End venue before transferring to the Apollo. It weaves together a fictionalised meeting between Vladimir Lenin, James Joyce and the Romanian-French writer Tzara in Zurich in 1917.

In his four-star review for the Evening Standard, Henry Hutchings wrote, “It’s Freddie Fox who dazzles, revelling in the anarchic energy of a character who’s part nuisance, part genius.”  It’s a performance that has earned him a nomination for the best Supporting Actor Olivier Award at next month’s ceremony. Freddie signed this sketch for me at the stage door between shows last Saturday.

Drawing: Clare Foster in Travesties

Clare Foster will be known to the fans of ITV’s THE BILL as regular PC Millie Brown. She is also a regular on the UK stage, her latest appearance earning her a Best Supporting Actress Olivier nomination this year for her role as Cecly Carruthers in the major London revival of Tom Stoppard’s TRAVESTIES, which transferred from the Menier Chocolate Factory to the West End’s Apollo Theatre. It’s her first individual  nomination but second nod for Britian’s premier theatre award after being part of the 2006/07 AVENUE Q cast at the Noel Coward Theatre that received the Best Ensemble nom. I met her at the Apollo stage door between shows on Saturday where she signed my sketch.

Drawing: Hilary Hahn

Consistently appearing in all the lists of the world’s greatest violinists is 37 year old American Hilary Hahn. The three-time Grammy Award winner is renowned  for her virtuosity , expansive interpretations and creative playing who champions contemporary music with several modern composers writing works especially for her, including Edgar Meyer and Jennifer Higdon.

Hilary started playing the violin one month before her 4th birthday and seven years a later made her major orchestral debut with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, beginning an extensive international career. In 2004 she recorded her first film score for M. Night Shyamalan’s THE VILLAGE, which received an Academy Award nomination. She plays a 1864 copy of Paganini’s Cannone violin by Vuillaume, which according to a recent interview, never leaves her sight. I drew this sketch of Hilary when she performed late last year at the Royal Festival Hall in London, but missed getting it signed. When she returned to the city last week for a one night performance at Wigmore Hall it gave me the opportunity to complete my mission.

Drawing: Leanne Cope in An American In Paris

The Broadway box-office hit AN AMERICAN IN PARIS, filled with memorable Gershwin musical numbers and spectacular dance routines, opened this week at London’s Dominion Theatre to a cluster of five-star reviews. Directed and choreographed by Tony winner Christopher Wheeldon and inspired by the Academy Award-winning 1951 film of the same name, premiered at the Palace Theatre on Broadway in April 2015 after a brief engagement at the Theatre du Chatelet in Paris.

Both leads, ballet stars Robert Fairchild and Leanne Cope headline the West End production. Former First Artist with the Royal Ballet, Leanne originated the role of Lise Dassin, originally played by Leslie Caron in the movie. She received a Tony Award nomination for her performance. I attempted to met Leanne in person at the stage door, but London’s fickle Spring weather sprung a leak in my plan last Saturday, so I left it at the theatre and it came back immediately.

Drawing: Ian Bartholomew as Chitterlow in Half A Sixpence

The Noel Coward Theatre is Ian Bartholomew’s second home. Three shows in three years at the West End venue and two Olivier nominations. The front of house staff even gave him a plaque to mark the occasion. In 2014/15 he appeared in the stage version of SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE as Sir Edmund Tylney, the man responsible for drama censorship in Elizabethan England.

Then he played the feisty impresario Vivian Van Damm in MRS HENDERSON PRESENTS last year and he is currently playing the eccentric playwright Critterlow in HALF A SIXPENCE, both roles he ‘got the nod’ for an Olivier nom. He signed my Critterlow sketch between shows on Saturday.

Drawing: Emma Williams in Half A Sixpence

Emma Williams is hoping it will be fourth time lucky at this year’s Olivier Awards. The popular British musical theatre actress earned nomination number four for her current role as Helen Walsingham in the Chichester Festival Theatre’s production of HALF A SIXPENCE, which transferred to London’s Noel Coward Theatre last month. She recently won the WhatsOnStage Award, so here’s hoping!

Emma is also an accomplished songwriter, musician and writer, and is working on her first novel. After her professional stage debut in 2002 at the age of 18 as Truly Scrumptious in the original cast of CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG at the London Palladium, Emma has originated a further five roles in the West End.

Her first Olivier nom was for Luisa in ZORRO at the Garrick in 2008, followed by Jenny in LOVE STORY at the Duchess and as Maureen last year in MRS HENDERSON PRESENTS at the Noel Coward,  where I managed to catch her last Saturday after the SIXPENCE matinee and she signed this portrait sketch for me. She remembered my MRS HENDERSON drawing which she also graphed. I wished her luck for the big night, which is on 9 April.

Drawing: Gary Brooker and Procol Harum

“We skipped the light fandango, turned cartwheels ‘cross the floor…” The opening lyrics to one of the great anthems A WHITER SHADE OF PALE, the debut single by the British rock band Procol Harum. It was released in May 1967, in the ‘Summer of Love’, reaching number one across the globe, including the UK, where it stayed for six weeks. Written by founding member Gary Brooker, with Keith Reid and Matthew Fisher it is one of fewer than 30 singles to have sold over 10 million copies worldwide. Rolling Stone magazine listed it at number 57 in its top 500 songs of all time and it was inducted into the Grammy Hall of fame in 1998. As part of the 50th Anniversary tour Gary and the band played one night at London’s Royal Festival Hall earlier this month. It completed their set list and received a standing O. Afterwards he and the rest of the band signed my sketch.

The poignancy of posting this today – 16 March –  is that my dear friend Bronwyn Blackstock would have celebrated her 60th birthday. She was part of our Light Fandango Company, a small group of friends who shared and enjoyed life. It was coined after this song and she was our treasurer (assets nil). Fandango three (F3). Sadly she lost her brave battle with cancer a year ago. This is in memory of her. Happy Bday B.

Drawing: Sooz Kempner in Character Activist

In the Autumn of 2013 the delightful stand-up comedian Sooz Kempner developed a series of characters for her blog-style YouTube sketches. She took four of those characters to the 2015 Edinburgh Fringe, entitled CHARACTER ACTIVIST. Before that she did a series of ‘works in progress’, including London’s Leicester Square Theatre. The four characters included Phalydia, a trust-fund, posh Soho It-girl, Nancy Spratt the oldest and revered West End diva, Michelle an Essex WAG and Danielle, Britain’s 4th ranked heptathlete. Late late year Sooz appeared at the Phoenix Club in the den of the Phoenix Theatre, where she signed my montage character sketch.

Drawing: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

“This is one of those rare occasions when play, performance and production perfectly coalesce,” wrote Michael Billington in his five-star Guardian review of Edward Albee’s landmark 1962 marital-crisis drama, WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? at London’s Harold Pinter Theatre. The latest West End revival, directed by James Macdonald, stars Imelda Staunton, Conleth Hill, Luke Treadaway and Imogen Poots. All four along with the production received rave reviews from every major critic after it’s opening this week. Billington summed them up. “Imelda Staunton brilliantly embodies Edward Albee’s campus Medusa in the shape of Martha. Conleth Hill matches her every inch of the way as her seemingly ineffectual husband George.

This is, however a team show and the young couple are excellently portrayed.  Luke Treadaway as Nick combines the golden arrogance of youth with the smug disdain of the scientist for a battered old humanist like George. Imogen Poots in her West End debut, strikingly shows the child-like Honey, switching between awed delight in the older couple’s outrageousness and a growing awareness that she herself is a victim of Nick’s contempt.”  The four cast members signed my drawing as they arrived for the Saturday matinee last weekend.

Drawing: Tom Stoppard

Britain’s greatest living playwright, Sir Tom Stoppard has two major revivals of his on London stages at the moment. The Menier Chocolate Factory’s production of TRAVESTIES has transferred to the Apollo and the 50th anniversary of ROSENCRANTZ AND GUILDENSTERN ARE DEAD has returned to its origins at the Old Vic, where I meet the Oscar, Tony and Olivier and many more Award winner last Saturday evening before the opening performance. In a recent interview with the Guardian’s Andrew Dickson, the nearly eighty-year old was asked if he recognised himself as the person who wrote the absurdist riff on Shakespeare’s HAMLET? “I remember him well,” he said. “Some of the writing is a little dandy-esque, as he was. At the time I attached more importance to the joys of receiving the right words in the right order, probably too little importance to the motor that kept the wheels turning.” He admits not being able to give both plays a ‘little more oomph’…a few small changes to freshen them up. in 1979, when Maggie Thatcher was elected PM, Sir Tom labelled himself a conservative with a small ‘c’. I am a conservative in politics, literature. education and theatre.” In 2007 he called himself a ‘timid libertarian.’ He answered “yes” when asked if he still smoked, adding with a grin,”…but I’ve got nothing intelligent to say that justifies my position. I don’t have one. I just smoke.”  This is what I could call my ‘Sir Tom ciggy with a siggy sketch.’