The West End transfer of the Rebecca Frecknall’s remarkable Almeida Theatre’s sell-out production of Tennessee Williams’ ‘most neglected work’, SUMMER AND SMOKE continues at the Duke of York’s until Saturday.
Set in a small Mississippi town one hundred years ago it centres on Alma Winemiller, a minister’s daughter and singing teacher who cares for her ailing mother, and her moth-like attraction to John Buchanan, an angry and resentful trainee doctor. It’s a devastating fable of half-requited love, missed moments and the ways we waste what little life we have, summarised in the byline, ‘Trapped between desire and a life of obligation, Alma meets John and her world turns upside-down.’
In his Variety review, Matt Trueman wrote, “It boasts two phenomenal performances at its heart: Patsy Ferran is a quiver of anxiety as Alma; Matthew Needham’s John, a river of despair. You will them together, knowing full well they’re bound to tear each other apart. It’s agonising to watch.”
Patsy and Matthew both signed my sketch late last year at the theatre.
Claire Price joined the cast of Jonathan Munby’s KING LEAR, for its limited West End transfer to the Duke of York’s, after the productions critically acclaimed sell-out run at Chichester’s Minerva Theatre.
Claire plays the ruthless, uptight older sister Goneril… described by one reviewer as a ‘Sloaney, (for those not familiar with the term, it’s a portmanteau of Sloane Square in London’s Chelsea, famed for the wealth and affluent lifestyle of its residents) pearls-and-headscarf Goneril’.
Claire is no stranger to Shakespeare. Previous roles include Beatrice in MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING, Miranda in THE TEMPEST and Rosalind in AS YOU LIKE IT. She’s also well known to UK TV viewers as DS Siobhan Clarke in REBUS and many guest appearances on popular shows such as AGATHA CHRISTIE’S POIROT and MIDSOMER MURDERS.
Thankfully Claire is the complete opposite to her LEAR stage persona and signed my sketch at the stage door, heading in for last Saturday’s matinee, one of the 100 performances scheduled to finish in early November.
Danny Webb’s extensive stage career includes moments of blindness, two grisly moments in fact, both critically acclaimed. The latest can be seen in Jonathan Munby’s ‘dazzling’ production of Shakespeare’s KING LEAR at the Duke of York’s Theatre.
Playing the Earl of Gloucester in the Chichester Festival Theatre’s West End transfer, opposite Sir Ian McKellen’s tragic monarch, Danny is tied to a chair while his eyes are gouged out, cited by one critic as channeling Quentin Tarantino’s RESERVOIR DOGS. The blinding of Gloucester scene is considered by many who consider these things as structurally and conceptually the play’s centre piece.
Eight years ago Danny won the Off West End Best Actor Award for his portrayal of Ian, a seedy, hard-drinking journo in the revival of Sarah Kane’s provocative BLASTED at the Lyric Hammersmith. Set in a luxury hotel room in Leeds, Ian and his much younger girlfriend Cate’s tryst intentions are dramatically interrupted by a soldier with a sniper’s rifle and an explosion that reduces everything to a shattered ruin. Cate escapes, but Ian is anally raped and his eyes sucked out by the menacing military man.
He signed my Shakespeare sketch a few weeks back after a matinee performance at the Duke of York’s before he returned to have his eyes ripped out that evening.
Welsh actress Sian Thomas, known for her big screen role as Amelia Bones, the Head of Magical Law Enforcement at the Ministry of Magic in 2007’s HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX also has an impressive set of stage credentials. She is currently playing Aunt Pat in Jez Butterworth’s epic new play THE FERRYMAN at London’s Gielgud Theatre, which ends this month.
The last time I saw Sian on the West End was in Peter Nichol’s PASSION PLAY at the Duke of York’s in 2013. She was the ‘friend’ who decides to enlighten Zoe Wannamaker’s character about her husband’s betrayal, a performance Charles Spencer in his Telegraph review describes as “memorably bitter.”
I had been carrying this sketch of Sian around in my ‘working’ file (probably ‘walking’ file is more apt given the miles I cover stalking stage doors) since I missed her at the Duke’s five years ago so took the opportunity to catch up before with her at the Gielgud on Saturday when she arrived for the matinee and signed it.
‘Two Queens. One in power. One in prison. It’s all in the execution’ …and two exceptional actresses, Juliet Stevenson and Lia Williams.
After a sell-out run at the Almeida Theatre, Robert Icke’s new adaption of MARY STUART transferred for a limited run at the Duke of York’s in London’s West End. The political tragedy verse play by Friedrich Schiller, which premiered in 1800 depicts the last days of Mary, Queen of Scots and Elizabeth I. Both Juliet and Lia played alternated the roles of the two Queens depending on who called heads or tails.
“Lia Williams and Juliet Stevenson switch roles at the toss of a coin to play the warring queens in Robert Icke’s explosive production,” wrote Susannah Clapp in her five-star Guardian review. Both signed my drawing at the stage door before the run ended on Saturday.
American actor Brian J Smith’s portrayal of Jim O’Connor, the ‘gentleman caller’ in John Tiffany’s celebrated Procyon of Tennessee William’s THE GLASS MENAGERIE has garnered him award nominations on both sides of the Atlantic. He was shortlisted for both the Drama Desk and Tony Awards for the Broadway run at the Booth Theatre in 2013 and this year’s Oliviers after its transfer to London’s Duke of York’s Theatre, which finishes next week. Brian kindly signed this sketch for me a couple of weeks ago and he said he’s staying in London for another William’s play.
I finally got to meet the Broadway icon and one of America’s greatest stage actresses Cherry Jones on Saturday at the Duke of York’s Theatre in London where the two-time Tony winner makes her West End debut in Tennessee William’s 1944 five-character memory play, THE GLASS MENAGERIE.
Cherry reprises her 2013 Broadway role as the faded Southern belle Amanda Wingfield in the John Tiffany production which also headlined at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival, where critics described her performance as ‘sensational’.
“For a woman my age this part is our HAMLET,” said the sixty year-old in a recent interview with WhatsOnStage. She also said that she had been trying to get to Britain all her adult life, “Now I’m in heaven and I want to stay.” TV viewers will know her for her Emmy Award winning role as the US President Allison Taylor in the Fox series 24.
Cherry was having a quick break from an afternoon run-trough on Saturday before the evening performance and I happened to be there at the right time. She was very warm and gracious and was more the happy signed my sketch.
After an eight year hiatus, RIPPER STREET’S Lucy Cohu returned to the stage in Andrew Bowell’s psychological thriller SPEAKING IN TONGUES at London’s Duke of York’s Theatre in the Autumn of 2009. She played double roles moving from a seductive wife to a terrified victim. Among her small screen roles was Princess Margaret in Channel 4’s THE QUEEN’S SISTER which earned her Emmy and BAFTA nominations in 2005. Three years later she won an International Emmy playing Liz in the true-life drama FORGIVEN.
Lucy was back on the London boards this Christmas in the classic 1930’s comedy, often described as Broadway’s revenge on Hollywood, ONCE IN A LIFETIME at the Young Vic, playing the star-columnist Helen Hobart. I meet her in the last week of the run and she signed this montage sketch for me.
Ken Stott and Reece Shearsmith has been gathering rave reviews for their performances as Sir and Norman respectively in Sean Foley’s excellent revival of Ronald Harwood’s classic play THE DRESSER, which ends its run at London’s Duke of York’s theatre next week. I drew a sketch of them together and also individual character drawings which they both signed at the stage door. This is Reece in a ‘Norman’ montage as the officious gate-keeper to Sir’s lair.
In his review, The Telegraph’s Dominic Cavendish called Reece’s performance as a ‘revelation’ and said, “There’s simply not a line mistimed, a movement misjudged and the particular triumph is that the 47-year-old comic actor takes us from entertaining,surface-polished camp mannerism, lots of limp wrists and arch, waspish asides, to a placed psychological perturbation, no less harrowing or stirring than the madness that afflicts his employer.”
Simon Rouse plays the Fool… and plays the Fool very well in Sean Foley’s polished revival of Sir Ronald Harwood’s classic play THE DRESSER, about ‘Sir’, a veteran Shakespearean and his loyal dresser touring in the shadow of World War Two at the Duke of York’s. ‘an absolute delight’ and a ‘glorious cameo’ are two of the reviewers descriptions of his foolish performance.
Simon’s recent London appearances included JB Priestley’s WHEN WE WERE MARRIED at the Garrick over the Winter of 2010/11 and his role as Gerald in the UK tour of the stage production of Simon Beaufoy’s 1997 comedy-drama film THE FULL MONTY which transferred to the West Ends Noel Coward theatre in 2014. On the small screen Simon devotees will know him as Detective Chief Inspector Jack Meadows in the ITV long-running police drama THE BILL and he popped in CORONATION STREET as Rita’s ex-lover Rusty a few years back.
Anyway back to the Fool. Simon’s actual character is ageing actor Geoffrey Thornton who is part of a ‘war-surplus cast of cripples, old men and pansies’, and makes his debut in KING LEAR as the Fool, keen to impress ‘Sir’. He certainly impressed the critics with The Telegraph’s Dominic Cavendish writing. “Simon Rouse is memorably awful (no doubt meant in a good way) as the hastily recruited stand-in for The Fool.”