Drawing: Halina Reijn in Obsession

She’s a household name in the Netherlands, and now Dutch actress Halina Reijn makes her first performing English speaking role in London in Ivo van Hove’s stage adaption of Luchino Visconti’s 1943 Italian neo-realism film OBSESSION at the Barbican.

It’s part of the multi-award winning Belgian director’s Avante Garde Theatre company, Toneelgroep Amsterdam’s four play residency at the London venue. Halina is Hanna, the abused wife of a bullying hotel proprietor, who has a passionate love affair with drifter Gino played by Jude Law.

“Reijn in some ways is even more extraordinary,” wrote Michael Billington in the Guardian. “She starts with the right air of anguished solitude, is quickened into life by the presence of the charismatic stranger and later sets about reordering her existence with a conscienceless practicality. It says something about Law and Reijn that, for a moment, I saw the couple as a modern version of the Macbeth.”

I met the very engaging Halina before last Saturday’s matinee and she was more than happy with my drawing and signed it. The production, which runs until 20 May, screens nationwide in selected UK cinemas tonight as part of National Theatre Live.

Drawing: Marcelo Puente in Madama Butterfly

Argentina tenor Marcelo Puente is so good at being bad, he gets booed at the curtain call. Making his Covent Garden debut as Pinkerton, one of Opera’s great villains in the latest revival of Puccini’s MADAMA BUTTERFLY at the Royal Opera House, the 38 year old has fulfilled a fourteen-year dream to perform at the iconic venue. Taking a break from his opera scholarship in Düsseldorf in the summer of 2003 he came to London and took a job as a waiter in an Italian restaurant near the ROH. They found out he was a singer so he performed between waiting tables and everyday passed the Opera House dreaming one day he would be on the famous stage. He actually gave up medical school and changed his career direction after hearing a recording of Pavarotti.

The reviews have been excellent. Tim Ashley, in the Guardian also mentioned opera audiences habit of booing reprehensible on stage characters and commented, when Marcelo takes his curtain call they greet him with “the kind of noise usually accorded a pantomime villain, despite giving one of the most complete and convincing portrayals of the role to be heard for some time.” He went on to say that, “Some might argue that the response validates his characterisation, though whether it’s a fitting acknowledgement for such a superb achievement seems to me debatable.”

Drawing: David Flynn in School of Rock

The charismatic Irish actor David Fynn’s performance as the equally charismatic Dewey Finn in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s latest musical SCHOOL OF ROCK has earned him his first Olivier Award nomination. It’s based on the 2003 film, starring Jack Black in the Dewey role as a faded rocker who takes a job teaching at a posh prep school and enters the precocious pre-teens in the local Battle of the Bands contest. Lord Webber bought the stage rights and wrote the musical score with lyrics by Glen Slater and the book by fellow Lord and DOWNTON ABBY author Julian Fellowes.

It premiered at The Winter Gardens on Broadway in the Autumn of 2015 before transferring to the New London theatre in the West End this year to rave reviews. David’s no stranger to TV viewers appearing in GAME OF THRONES, SHERLOCK, DOCTOR WHO, and SPOOKS among others. He joined the Hollywood set three years ago as the gay barman Brett in NBC’s sitcom UNDATABLE.

But he’s also done his fair share of stage work and has been a lifelong fan of Lord Andrew’s work, recalling his first taste of musical theatre was JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOUR DREAMCOAT at the age of ten. “Musical theatre has always been in me,” he recently said in an interview, “Nothing beats the rush of theatre,”…except maybe winning an Olivier, which he’ll find out this weekend.

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: Charlie Stemp in Half A Sixpence

charlie-stemp

The West End sensation at the moment is the effervescent 23 year-old Londoner Charlie Stemp and his performance as Arthur Kipps in Julian Fellowes’ revised version of HALF A SIXPENCE, which transferred from the sell-out season at the Chichester Festival Theatre to the Noel Coward Theatre last November. It’s a role originally created as a star vehicle for Tommy Steele and the 1963 West End Premiere. Despite Charlie’s dizzying rise to the top of the theatre world, he is kept grounded by his family. His Dad sent him a review with his name misspelt, “this Charlie Stump is doing well.”

But he new how to sign his name on my sketch for me last Saturday when I caught up with him arriving for the matinee.

Drawing: Terrible Advice at the Menier Chocolate Factory

Terrible Advice

TERRIBLE ADVICE premiered at London’s Menier Chocolate Factory in the Winter of 2011 to critical acclaim. The debut play by Saul Rubinek, best-known as Daphane’s boyfriend in FRASIER was directed by Yoda, I mean Frank Oz, long-time collaborator of Jim Henson and the Jedi Master himself.

It was based on the premise that well-meaning friends are never slow to offer advice, but following it can ruin your life. The ‘well-meaning friends’ were Caroline Quentin, Scott Bakula, Andy Nyman and Sharon Horgan who I depicted in this biro sketch and guessed which of the exits they would choose to come out of the converted factory, 180 seater off-West End theatre and restaurant to get it signed. I guessed correctly.