Drawing: Kenneth Lonergan

Autographed drawing of writer Kenneth Lonergan

American film director, screenwriter and playwright Kenneth Lonergan was in London recently, visiting Wyndham’s theatre where his play THE STARRY MESSENGER opened last month with Matthew Broderick and Elizabeth McGovern. The original 2009 off-Broadway production also featured Matthew and Kenneth’s wife, J.Smith-Cameron.
Kenneth’s playwriting prowess came to prominence in 1996 with THIS IS OUR YOUTH, followed by THE WAVERLY GALLERY three years later, earning him a Pulitzer Prize nomination and LOBBY HERO in 2002. All three plays collected Tony Award nominations for their respective revivals.

Kenneth’s most notable film work is YOU CAN COUNT ON ME (2000) and MANCHESTER BY THE SEA (2016), both written and directed by him and both included Matthew in their cast. He received Academy Award Best Original Screenplay nominations the two films, collecting the Oscar for the later. He also won the BAFTA Award. David Fear, writing in Rolling Stone said that MANCHESTER proved Kenneth was “practically peerless in portraying loss as a living, breathing thing without resorting to the vocabulary of griefporn.” In 2002 he co-wrote Martin Scorsese’s GANGS OF NEW YORK (2002), once again receiving Academy recognition with an Original Screenplay nomination.

It was great to meet Kenneth at Wyndham’s Theatre, where he kindly signed my drawing.

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Drawing: Alex Kingston in Macbeth

Autographed drawing of actress Alex Kingston

Alex Kingston made her New York stage debut as Lady Macbeth opposite Kenneth Branagh in Shakespeare’s ‘Scottish play’ at the cavernous Park Avenue Armoury in June 2014. Co-directed by Rob Ashford and Sir Kenneth, this immersive production transferred from a limited run at the deconsecrated St Peter’s church as one of the highlights of the Manchester International Festival a year earlier. “Branagh is expertly matched by Alex Kingston”, wrote Dominic Cavendish in his Telegraph review. “Lady Macbeth – an electrifying, highly wrought Alex Kingston” was The Stage’s Michael Coveney’s summation of her acclaimed performance. The production was also screened in cinemas throughout the UK and internationally as part of the National Theatre Live programme.

Alex’s notable television work includes her title role in the miniseries THE FORTUNES AND MISFORTUNES OF MOLL FLANDERS in 1996, for which she received a BAFTA nomination and her portrayal of British surgeon Elizabeth Corday in the US medical drama ER for seven seasons between 1997-2004, returning for the final season in 2009 for two episodes, winning two SAG Awards as part of the ensemble cast. She played River Song, the Time Lord’s wife in DOCTOR WHO from 2008-2015.

Alex returned to the London stage earlier this year to play Sherri Rosen-Mason, the head of admissions at a sixth-form college in Joshua Harmon’s successful Broadway play ADMISSIONS at London’s Trafalgar Studios, where she signed my drawing.

Drawing: Sidney Poitier

Autographed drawing of actor Sidney Poitier

I was super pleased to receive this back in the mail last week. Sidney Poitier, or should I say Sir Sidney is one of my all-time favourite people.

His parents were farmers on Cat Island in the central Bahamas, which was then a British colony. Sidney was born in Miami, Florida, while they were visiting to sell their produce. He was two months premature and not expected to live. But live he certainly did, celebrating his 92nd birthday this year.

In 1964 he became the first African-American to win the Academy Award for Best Actor, for his role as itinerant worker Homer Smith in LILIES OF THE FIELD. He also won a Golden Globe. It was his second Oscar nomination, having received recognition six years earlier for his portrayal of Noah Cullen in THE DEFIANT ONES, for which he won the BAFTA. His groundbreaking work continued in 1967 with three roles, Mark Thackeray in TO SIR, WITH LOVE, Dr. John Wade Prentice in GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER and Detective Virgil Tibbs in my personal favourite, IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT, that all dealt with issues of race and race relations.

Both the Academy of Motion Pictures, Arts and Sciences and the British Academy presented him with an Honorary Oscar and a Fellowship respectively. Sidney has also directed nine films, including the box-office hit STIR CRAZY. Sir Sidney was knighted in 1974, and from 1997-2007 he was the Bahamian Ambassador to Japan. In 2009, President Barack Obama presented him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest US civilian honour.

Yes, indeed, super, super pleased he signed and returned my drawing.

Drawing: Wendell Pierce in Death of a Salesman

Autographed drawing of Wendell Pierce in Death of a Salesman at The Young Vic Theatre

With over 30 films, 50 TV shows and dozens of theatre productions to his name, distinguished American actor Wendell Pierce makes his London stage debut as the tragic anti-hero Willy Loman in the reimagined revival of Arthur Miller’s 1949 Pulitzer Prize-winning masterwork DEATH OF A SALESMAN at the Young Vic, co-directed by Marianne Elliot and her long-term associate Miranda Cromwell.

It’s the story of an ageing salesman, who has invested so much time in the American dream he regards failure as a mortal sin. The play addresses the loss of identity and a man’s inability to accept changes within himself and society. To freshen the notion of the American dream as a nightmare and that much further away, the lower middle class Loman family are African-American, living a precarious existence in 1940’s Brooklyn. “We’re not changing a word (of the text) but it is amazing how you hear it differently,” said Marianne.

The New Orleans-born and bred Wendell, who plays Willy opposite the magnificent Sharon D. Clarke said it was ‘a honour and a milestone’. In his interview with Metro he commented, “This is not ‘colour blind’ casting, but ‘very specific casting’, that heightens the sense of the obstacles that are placed in front of Willy, his wife Linda and his sons Biff and Happy. Particular moments sting in new ways.”

It’s not the first staging of the play to shift ethnicity. Charles S. Dutton played Willy in 2009 at Yale Repertory and Don Warrington in the Manchester production last year. TimeOut’s Andrzej Lukowski writes, “This brilliantly reimagined take on the Arthur Miller classic is powered by a phenomenal black-led cast…that unquestionably finds new depths to the play.” In his Guardian review, Michael Billington said, “We’ve seen many good productions of DEATH OF A SALESMAN over the years, this one, mixing the socially specific and the dreamily phantasmagoric depicts the duality at the heart of Miller’s memory-play with exceptional clarity,” The sold-out production has been extended by two weeks.

Wendell will be familiar to screen viewers as the high-powered attorney Robert Zane in SUITS, detective Bunk Moreland in THE WIRE and trombonist Antoine Batiste in TREME on television and in films such as MALCOLM X and SELMA. He also produced the Broadway production of CLYBOURNE PARK which collected four Tony nominations, winning Best New Play.

Wendell signed this rehearsal sketch when he arrived for a Saturday matinee at the Young Vic a couple of weeks ago.

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.

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.