Drawing: Michael Pennington as Prospero

Tom Littler’s production of THE TEMPEST at the Jermyn Street Theatre in London, featuring Michael Pennington as Prospero, opened in March 2020 for a five week season. After only six performances it was forced to close due to the Covid lockdown. Eighteen months later it set sail again, and even though the Omnicron variant, currently rampaging through the West End, is causing show disruptions, the production looks likely to complete its rescheduled run this week.

One of the foremost Shakespearean actors of his generation, Michael’s distinguished career is dominated by a variety of leading stage roles for the Royal Shakespeare Company, the National Theatre and the English Shakespeare Company, which he co-founded and was its Artistic Director from 1986-1992. The four-time Olivier Award nominee has also toured two solo shows; SWEET WILLIAM and ANTON CHEKHOV worldwide. Earlier this year he released a memoir, entitled ‘In My Own Footsteps’.

“Being taken to the theatre when I was 11 years old lit a light in me, and that light has never gone out.”Michael’s latest stage performmance drew universal acclaim.  In the West End’s smallest producing theatre, he is “a colossal Prospero”, wrote Broadway World. The Guardian’s Arifa Akbar said, “The magic spark in this production lies largely in Pennington’s Prospero… a physically wizened but still mighty magician and displaced Duke.

“Michael also has a number of screen appearances to his impressive credit list, including CALLAN, THE BILL, THE TUDORS and FATHER BROWN on television and as Moff Jerjerrod in STAR WARS: RETURN OF THE JEDI (1983) and Michael Foot in THE IRON LADY (2011) on the big screen.

I met Michael a couple of weekends ago as he arrived at the Jermyn Street Theatre for a Saturday matinee, where he kindly signed my Prospero portrait for me.

Drawing: Michael Brandon and Cherie Lunghi in Off The Kings Road

Michael Brandon Cherie Lunghi

Top Hollywood publicist, manager and producer Neil Koenigsberg’s debut play, the bittersweet comedy drama OFF THE KINGS ROAD transferred to London’s Jermyn Street Theatre this month after successful runs in New York and Los Angeles. Michael Brandon plays Matt Browne, a recent widower, who takes a week’s respite in his favourite city, London, in a small hotel off the King’s Road. His stay turns into a voyage of self-discovery with a number of unplanned encounters, including a Russian prostitute and her jealous boyfriend. WestEnd Wilma described it as ‘an intelligent little gem.’

A unique part of the production is the e-appearance of Oscar winner Jeff Bridges as Matt’s LA-based psychologist Dr Kozlowski via Skype in three short segments.

Cheri Lunghi makes a delightful cameo as the nosey hotel resident and cat lover Ellen.
I left this sketch of Michael and Cheri at the theatre on the final day and it came back today signed and dedicated.

Drawing: Michael Praed in The White Carnation

Michael Praed

I first saw Michael Praed on stage at the Comedy Theatre in 1994 in Daphne du Mauriers’s SEPTEMBER TIDE. He starred opposite the late Susannah York in a production that still rates as one of my favourites. I mentioned this to Michael last night  in the dimly-lit stage door area of London’s Dominion Theatre where he is in previews  for Jeff Wayne’s musical version of THE WAR OF THE WORLDS.

TV viewers will be familiar with Michael as, in the words of Telegraph critic Tim Walker, ‘the once smouldering star’ of the Eighties hits series’ ROBIN OF SHERWOOD and DYNASTY.  He has forged a versatile stage career in both musicals and plays.

In 2014 he appeared in the first revival since it’s 1953 premiere of R.C. Sherriff’s  supernatural drama THE WHITE CARNATION at London’s Jermyn St Theatre, after a sell-out run at the Finborough Theatre. Walker described his portrayal of John Greenwood, a man everyone thought was dead but suddenly comes back to life,  as marking “Michael Praed’s transition from sex symbol to serious stage actor.” Fellow scribe, Dominic Cavendish wrote, “What a neglected little treasure it prove; not life-changing maybe, but life-affecting.”

I drew this sketch of Michael in the ‘ghost’ role and that was the reason I was lurking with a sharpie in the dimly-lit Dominion Theatre stage door area. I didn’t see him leaving after the matinee and he had  actually gone past me, but turned to enquire if I wanted something signed. How polite. I must have had ‘that’ look, one that I have been cultivating over many years.  Probably helps holding a drawing and a pen. Big clue. Michael has one of the most beautiful sigs, with crafted and distinctive handwriting, as you can see, it’s a piece of artwork itself.  I did do another drawing ages ago of him in SEPTEMBER TIDE which I might find and pay another visit to the dimly-lit Dominion Theatre stage door.

Drawing: Imogen Stubbs in Little Eyolf at the Jermyn Street Theatre

Imogen Stubbs

Actress and playwright Imogen Stubbs is a veteran of over 40 plays, starting with the role of Sally Bowles in Cabaret at the Wolsey Theatre in 1985. In 2011 she took her most harrowing part as Rita in Henrik Ibsen’s 1894 play  Little Eyolf at the Jermyn Street Theatre in London.

“No one could describe Ibsen’s play as fun, but Imogen Stubb’s performance almost blows the roof off the theatre,” wrote Charles Spencer in The Telegraph.

Imogen’s most recent foray onto the West End boards was Strangers On A Train. She signed this sketch for me at the Jermyn Street Theatre in May 2011.