Drawing: Olivia Williams in Waste

Autographed drawing of Olivia Williams in Waste at the National Theatre in London

“Olivia Williams steals the show,” was the headline for Dominic Cavendish’s review of WASTE at the National Theatre’s Lyttelton stage in late 2015.

Writer Harley Granville Barker’s 1907 version of his play was banned by the Lord Chamberlain, but was rewritten twenty years later and finally staged in public at the Westminster Theatre in 1936. The story is a combination of the three big themes, sex, politics and religion. Ambitious and independent politician Henry Trebell plans to introduce legislation to disestablish the Church of England and distribute its huge wealth to education. But, after election victory and success almost assured he suffers a fall from grace, impregnating the wife of a former Irish Republican, Amy O’Connell, who dies after a botched abortion. Roger Michell’s revival used the 1927 version, featuring Charles Edwards as Henry Trebell and Olivia Williams as Amy O’Connell.

“The night’s laurels belong, in the end, to Williams’s cloche-hatted anti-heroine whose tearful, vituperative, revulsion-filled showdown with Trebell has you on the edge of your seat,” concluded Dominic’s review.

After graduating with an English Lit degree from Cambridge University, Olivia studied drama at the Bristol Old Vic, followed by three years with the Royal Shakespeare Company. She made her film debut in 1997 alongside Kevin Costner in THE POSTMAN and has since appeared in such notable productions as THE SIXTH SENCE and AN EDUCTION, receiving critical acclaim and awards recognition in 2010 for her performance in Roman Polanski’s THE GHOST WRITER.

She is currently filming Florian Zeller’s movie version of his hit play THE FATHER with Anthony Hopkins and Olivia Colman, which is also being directed by the French playwright.

Olivia returned to the Lyttelton stage this spring to play Orgon’s wife Elmire in Moliere’s TARTUFFE, where she signed my sketch.

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Drawing: Malcolm McDowell in A Clockwork Orange

Autographed drawing of Malcolm McDowell in A Clockwork Orange

When Stanley Kubrick’s dystopian crime film A CLOCKWORK ORANGE was first released in NewZealand nearly fifty years ago, the Censor gave it an R20 classification, resulting in public protests, which subsequently resulted in a lower rating a few years later. As a high school student at the time, it was considered the ultimate bragging right, amongst pubescent teenage boys to be able to successfully enter the cinema, acquire a ticket, (usually via an older sibling) stay for the duration without underage detection and emerge triumphant at its conclusion. I did not claim such bragging rights, instead enjoying the ritual vicariously through the few that achieved such status.

Based on Anthony Burgess’s 1962 novel of the same name, its central theme is behaviourism, specifically youth subcultures and juvenile delinquency, which was on the rise in Britain during the early sixties. It questions the definition of ‘goodness’ and the use of aversion therapy to stop immoral behaviour.

The story is set in ‘near-future’ London. The central character is Alex played by Malcolm McDowell, who leads his band of ‘droogs’. They hang out at Korova milk bar, embarking on ‘a little ultraviolence’ while warbling ‘Singin’ in the Rain.’ After he is jailed and subjected to behaviour modification therapy, Alex is released back into society, only to become prey at the hands of his former victims. Considered a cult classic now, the 1971 film went on to collect four Oscar and seven BAFTA nominations, including Best Picture and Best Director. Malcolm was nominated in the Best Actor categories at the Golden Globe, National Society of Film Critics and the New York Film Critics Awards.

As part of the Stanley Kubrick Season at the British Film Institute for the past two months, Malcolm McDowell made a guest appearance, participating in a Q&A after the initial screening of A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, where he signed for me.

Drawing: Robert Bathurst in Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell

“I believe that no one should go back to work after lunch, but for some unfortunate people it’s in the middle of the working day.” One of the many satirical commentaries by the infamous British scribe and soak Jeffrey Bernard, often described as the ‘Soho Tom Sawyer.’

He would wake up, smoke in bed for half an hour, and then move to his desk in an attempt to write, his creative flow lubricated with orange juice, topped with vodka, before heading to a place he called his ‘office’ which was a pub that opened precisely at 11am. It was and still is one of London’s great public houses, The Coach & Horses in Greek Street in London’s Soho, where fellow journo and frequenter Keith Waterhouse was inspired to write his hit West End play JEFFREY BERNARD IS UNWELL, which imagines the writer locked in the pub overnight, allowing him plenty of time to reflect on life.

It premiered at the Apollo Theatre in Shaftesbury Avenue with the equally legendary Peter O’Toole, who won an Olivier Award for his portrayal, with a sold-out revival at the Old Vic ten years later. Now a unique and immersive production is being staged inside the actual venue itself, complete with the traditional Saturday night ‘lock-ins’, with Robert Bathurst performing a trimmed, one-hour version.

It’s a collaboration between the pub’s independent landlord Alastair Choat, director Jame Hiller and Defibrillator Theatre to not only celebrate the 30th anniversary of the play, but to highlight the opposition of this independent establishment to a big pub chain takeover. A petition is also circulating. The title is taken from the one-line apology that would be published in the Spectator in the 1970’s and 80’s on the occasions that he was unable to complete his weekly ‘Low Life’ column – a euphemism for ‘pissed again.’ The column chronicled his debauched days and nights with, in his own words, ” a place full of poets, painters, prostitutes, bookmakers, runners, bohemians, bums, cafe philosophers, crooks and cranks.” The column was described by Jonathan Meades as a “weekly suicide note.”

Jeffrey was introduced to the ‘Soho set’ at an early age in the 1940’s and as he said, “never looked forward.” In later life, he wrote, “I’m not well, I’m fucking dying,” which he did, at home, from renal failure in 1997, after refusing dialysis treatment.

While reading law at Pembroke College, Cambridge, Robert joined the infamous Cambridge Footlights Group and, after graduating began a successful acting career. His professional stage debut was in Michael Frayn’s NOISES OFF at the Savoy Theatre in 1983, before joining the NationalTheatre. TV viewers will be familiar with his roles as David Marsden in the popular comedy drama COLD FEET and Sir Anthony Strallen in DOWNTON ABBEY. He joins an illustrious line of actors, who have played the part of Jeffrey Bernard, that include Peter, Tom Conti, Dennis Waterman, James Bolam, Robert Powell and the late Sir John Hurt. He kindly signed this drawing for me after last Tuesday’s performance at The Coach & Horses.

Drawing: Kelsey Grammer and Danielle de Niese in Man of La Mancha

Autographed drawing of Kelsey Grammer and Danielle De Niese in Man of La Mancha at the London Coliseum

The musical MAN OF LA MANCHA returns to the West End after fifty years in a semi-staged concert production at the London Coliseum with Kelsey Grammer as Miguel de Cervantes/Don Quixote and Danielle de Niese as Aldonza/Dulcinea and English National Opera’s 30-piece orchestra. Based on Dan Wasserman’s non-musical teleplay with music by Mitch Leigh and lyrics by Joe Darion, it opened on Broadway in 1965, winning five Tony Awards, including Best Musical. The original London production opened in April 1968 at the Piccadilly Theatre. Inspired by Miguel de Cervantes and his 17th century novel ‘Don Quixote’, MAN OF LA MANCHA is a ‘play within a play’ as Miguel de Cervantes languishes in a dungeon awaiting his hearing with the Spanish Inquisition, he and his fellow prisoners perform the story of the ‘mad’ knight Don Quixote.

Kelsey returns to the London boards after his successful 2017 debut in BIG FISH at The Other Palace. Even though many will know him for his multi-award winning role as Dr. Frasier Crane in the TV shows CHEERS and FRASIER, he is no stranger to the stage. His turn as Georges in LA CAGE AUX FOLLIES at New York’s Longacre Theatre in 2010 was recognised with a Tony nomination, an award he won eight years later as one of the producers for THE COLOUR PURPLE. In LA MANCHA he gets to sing the big number, ‘The Impossible Dream’ (The Quest).

Australian-born lyric soprano Danielle moved to Los Angeles with her family, making her operatic debut with the Los Angeles Opera at the age of fifteen. A year later she won an Emmy for hosting the TV programme LA KIDS. Danni, as she is known to family, friends and colleagues has been described by the New York Times as ‘Opera’s coolest soprano,’ and an opera pop star. She has performed around the globe at many of the major opera houses, including Convent Garden where she debuted in the Royal Opera’s production of Handel’s ACIS AND GALATEA in 2009.

Both Kelsey and Danielle kindly signed this sketch for me at Wogan House a couple of weeks ago when they appeared on Graham Norton’s BBC Radio2 show.

Drawing: Dara O Briain

Autographed drawing of comedian Dara O'Briain

One of the most recognisable faces on British TV is Irish funnyman Dara O Briain, although the London-based comic and presenter says he’s only recognised once a day. Described as one of the most charismatic, intelligent, fast-talking and downright funny performers working today, ‘Britain’s favourite Irishman’, who studied maths and theoretical physics at Dublin’s University College was voted the 16th greatest stand-up comic on Chanel 4’s 100 Greatest Stand-Ups.

On stage he has the ‘aristocratic bearing of someone esteemed in almost every household in the land,’ according to Guardian reviewer Brian Logan. The ‘craic dealer’ is a regular fixture on the telly, hosting the hugely popular MOCK THE WEEK, plus STARGAZING LIVE, ROBOTWARS, GO8BIT and THE APPRENTICE: YOU’RE FIRED! among others. He is also a frequent guest on QI and LIVE AT THE APOLLO, reminding us that ‘nostalgia is heroin for old people’ and ‘stop taking it literally – it’s only the Bible, it’s not gospel!’ His favourite word is ‘defenestration’, which is a form of political assassination where people are thrown out of a window. His most overused one is ‘fuck’, which he justifies -“it’s a solid word,” When asked what extinct thing he would bring back, he said, the fountain pen. Write so!

It was great to finally meet Dara earlier this year when he signed my sketch at the London Palladium stage door in February when he arrived for the 100 HEARTS NIGHT OF COMEDY charity evening.

Drawing: Katarina Witt

Autographed drawing of figure skater Katarina Witt

Regarded as one of the most successful figure skaters of all time, Katarina Witt dominated the sport for over half a decade in the 1980s, combining technical skill with charisma and a dazzling flair for showmanship. Representing East Germany and often described as the “ most beautiful face of socialism,” Katarina won gold at both the 1984 Sarajevo and 1988 Calgary Olympics. She was World Champion in 1984, 85, 87 and 88 and won six consecutive European titles from 1983-88.

She also starred alongside men’s Olympic medalists Brian Boitaio and Brian Orser in the 1990 telefilm CARMEN ON ICE, which won the trio an Emmy Award. Since retiring she had pursued a number of sporting and entertainment ventures, establishing her production company ‘With Witt’ in 1995 and is a member of the Laureus Sports Academy.

I sent this montage sketch to Katarina at her production company in Germany and it came back signed and dedicated.

Drawing: Rita Moreno

Autographed drawing of actress Rita Moreno

Rita Moreno was born Rosa Dolores Alverio Marcano 87 years ago in Humacao, Puerto Rico. In a career that has spanned seventy years, she is one of only fifteen artists to complete the EGOT; winning all four of America’s competitive entertainment awards, the Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony, honouring achievements in television, recording, film and theatre, often referred to as the ‘grand slam’ of American show business. She is also the recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America’s highest civilian honour.

Rita has won two Emmy Awards, the first in 1977 for her appearance on an episode of THE MUPPET SHOW, and her second, the following year for her guest role on THE ROCKFORD FILES. Her Grammy was for THE ELECTRIC COMPANY Album in 1972. She won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her portrayal of Anita in the film adaption of Leonard Bernstein’s and Stephen Sondheim’s groundbreaking Broadway musical WEST SIDE STORY and a Tony for Best Featured Actress as Googie Gomez in THE RITZ at the Longacre Theatre in 1975.

I sent this sketch of Rita to her home in California a few weeks ago, and it came back signed and dedicated.

Drawing: Nigel Slater

Autographed drawing of Chef Nigel Slater

I finally got to meet another culinary hero of mine last week. Nigel Slater was at The Other Palace theatre for the West End premiere of the sage adaption of TOAST, the comedy-drama, based on his best-selling , award-winning autobiography ‘Toast: The Story of a Boy’s Hunger.’ The extraordinary story of a childhood revealed through food was also made into a successful film, featuring Helena Bonham Carter in 2010.

One of Britain’s foremost gastronomic writers, Nigel is famous for his stripped-back recipes, which show how easy it is to make delicious meals from just a few high-quality ingredients. The play was commissioned in 2018 by The Lowry in Manchester, where it had a sell-out run at the Week 53 Festival. Written by Henry Filoux-Bennett, the production moved to the Edinburgh Fringe, embarking on a UK National tour, before its London transfer.

I met Nigel at the theatre, where he very kindly signed my sketch, before the press night performance. I’ve always admired Nigel’s handwriting, which features in many of his TV shows, so was able to satisfy both culinary and calligraphic obsessions. I later discovered, not only was it his birthday, (one day before mine) but we are the same age, so a belated many happy returns.

Drawing: David Suchet, Brendan Coyle, Adrian Lukis and Sara Stewart in The Price

Autographed drawing of David Suchet, Brendan Coyle, Adrian Luke's and Sara Stewart in The Price at Wyndham's Theatre in London's West End

Arthur Miller’s final masterpiece, THE PRICE premiered on Broadway at the Morosco Theatre in the winter of 1968. The play about family dynamics, the price of furniture and the price of one’s decisions has had a number of revivals, including Jonathan Church’s ‘rich and powerful’ 50th anniversary production at the Theatre Royal Bath last summer, which transferred to the Wyndham’s Theatre in London’s West End this February with the same cast.

Two estranged brothers meet for the first time in sixteen years to sell the family furniture stored in a New York attic. Victor Franz (Brendan Coyle), a New York cop, nearing retirement and his brother Walter (Adrian Lukis), a successful surgeon learn the cost of dividing the family spoils. They are joined by Victor’s alcohol-dependent wife Esther (Sara Stewart) and a silver-tongued 89 year-old furniture dealer, Gregory Solomon (David Suchet) who is asked to access and bid for the family heirlooms. The Guardian’s Michael Billington summed up the critical response by simply saying it is a “superbly acted production.”

Special mention has been made of David’s tragicomic tour de force, with Dominic Maxwell writing in his review for the Times, that the show is “blessed by one truly great star turn. David Suchet has an almost indecent amount of fun as Gregory Solomon”.  Both David and Adrian have been nominated for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor Olivier Awards respectively, at this weekend’s ceremony.

Adrian and Sara signed my montage sketch for me in person at the stage door prior to Saturday’s matinee a couple of weeks ago, but I missed David and Brendan, so left it for them at the theatre. It was returned TTM (Through The Mail) as we say in the collecting business, graphed and dedicated.

Drawing: Dario Cecchini

Autographed drawing of Chef Dario Cecchini

One of life’s little pleasures is David Gelb’s Netflix series, CHEF’S TABLE. It’s part of my overall vice for watching cooking shows, replacing a gap in my vocational achievements. The latest series was released this February with four episodes. My favourite was about Dario Cecchini, the charismatic Tuscan butcher and celebrity showman. In the small village of Panzano in the Chianti region off Italy, where Dario grew up, his father ran the local butcher shop, which had been in the family for eight generations, spanning 250 years. Dario, however did not want to be a butcher. He wanted to be a vet. After his mother passed away from cancer, Dario moved to Pisa to study veterinarian science, but he had to cut his studies short and return home to look after his ailing father, who also died leaving Dario no option but to take over the family business.

He said, “I won’t be the one to save the animal, I will be the one who kills the animal.” Even though he grew up in a butcher’s family he knew nothing of the it. He contacted Orlando, his father’s meat adviser and confidente, who took him to many farms and introduced Dario in his philosophy, “When an animal is born, we must try to give it the best life and when the animal dies by our hand we must respect the gift of the animal.”

Dario customers just wanted steaks and fillets, he but wanted to use all the animal, including the ‘less noble’ parts, as he puts it, from ‘nose-to-tail.’ All parts of the animal are useful if butchered and cooked in the appropriate way. Dario says it’s a combination of knowledge and a consciousness respect for the animal. In order to persuade his customers of this, he starting cooking to show how this could be done, establishing ‘Ristorante Soloccia’ across the street from his shop “I am not a cook. I am a butcher who cooks.”

He relies on instinct and keeping things simple and a glass of red wine that helps the process. It became such a huge success that a second ‘meat-centric’ restaurant Officina Della Bistecca was opened next door. The boy who wanted to be a vet had become the most famous butcher in the world.

Combining another vice, the need to scribble, I did this quick sketch and sent it to Dario to sign, which he did, appropriately in a big red marker, cleverly adapting the philosophical phrase ‘carpe diem’ to ‘carne (meat) diem’.