Drawing: Gawn Grainger in The Entertainer

gawn-grainger

Instead of quietly slipping off to Tuscany and working on his memoirs, veteran British actor Gawn Grainger stepped into the role of ex-showman Billy Rice in THE ENTERTAINER, the final production in the Kenneth Branagh season of plays at The Garrick. The 78 year-old replaced John Hurt, who was originally cast to play the father of washed-up music hall performer Archie Rice, but had to withdraw for medical reasons.

Gawn’s illustrious stage career began with his West End debut at the age of twelve before going on to be part of Lawrence Olivier’s inaugural season at the National Theatre and has since worked with the professions finest. Paul Taylor wrote about Gawn’s performance in his Independent review “Gawn Grainger is perfection at conveying the Edwardian staunch pride and garrulous irritability with the modern world.” He signed my drawing at the stage door, commenting, “it looks like me,” which is always a good sign.

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Drawing: Dining with Marie Antoinette

Dining With Marie Antoinette

As you can see by the date on this sketch, it hasn’t happened yet. It is in fact a piece of history yet to take place and I am unashamedly promoting it. London has a long-standing tradition of ‘pub theatre’, incorporating the culinary and theatrical arts, in even longer-standing establishments across the English capital. Truc Vert is not a pub, but it’s about to become part of the tradition. It’s a restaurant, tucked away in Mayfair’s North Audley Street, described as “a little rustic oasis of artisan food and premium wines.” Named after the beach on France’s south west coast, it has the authentic ambience of one of the regions infamous fisherman’s huts and this Saturday it will host some French histrionics… and hospitality with an evening of ‘restaurant theatre’ entitled Dining With Marie Antoinette.

As history reveals, Marie Antoinette was the ill-fated Queen of France. She was a trendsetter, synonymous with big hair and even bigger dresses, who has become a pop culture icon and subject of numerous films, books and songs. Married into the French Royal family at fifteen she became a teen idol in her day and at one point attracted an uncontrollable crowd of 50,000 Parisians, resulting in 30 of them being crushed to death. (Note to self about the dangers of stalking). However, that popularity soon went belly-up when Marie A  became Queen at the age of 19, after her husband Louis-Auguste ascended the throne. By all accounts the multi-linguiled Austrian could sing and dance, but was a bit shortsighted when it came to spending on her lavish lifestyle and gambling habits. Actually she was shortsighted, physically as well. The upside of that according to one historian was that it “brought an enchanted, misty glimmer to her large, blue-grey eyes.” The very blue-grey eyes attached to her head that was detached from the rest of her body by the revolting peasants (later to be known as the French Revolution) who decided to cut off her credit with the guillotine at 12.15 pm on the 16th of October 1793. Just desserts for telling them to “eat cake”, a quote attributed to her by mistake. C’est la vie.

What more could the discerning diner want than tasty French cuisine with one of France’s most charismatic characters?  This is a quick sketch I drew of Katie Brennan, (Marie), Sam Taylor (Louis XVI) and director Amanda Dales during rehearsals last week. I didn’t get Maria A to sign. Apparently her handwriting is atrocious. So if you love food, theatre and a slice of history catch Marie Antoinette, live on 14 November.  Check out www.trucvert.co.uk for details.

Sketch: Sarah Kendall in Touchdown at the Soho Theatre

sarah kendall

Sarah Kendall is a London based Australian comic who became the first comedienne in almost a decade in 2009 to be nominated for the prestigious Perrier Award (presented to the best shows at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in Scotland, now called the Eddies)

She is one of the most acclaimed stand ups in the industry and has played sets around the globe, including the Just For Laughs Festival in Montreal and at LA’s Hollywood Improv Club.

The Observer called her, “thoughtful, intelligent, subtle, enlightening and …really funny.”

In its review The Guardian said Sarah, “takes comedy to serious places” for her latest show Touchdown, which has just completed its run at the Soho Theatre, where Sarah signed my sketch.

Drawing: Hugh Grant

Hugh Grant

Fifty four year old Hugh Grant thinks he’s getting too old to play the lead in romantic comedies. Yesterday he was at the Odeon cinema in Kensington for the premiere of his latest film, The Rewrite, and he doesn’t think it is a rom-com… or maybe just a little bit.

Not one for stardom and celebrity status, Hugh, “isn’t feeling very showbizzy at the moment”. In fact he’s more of an anti-film star. He often claims that acting isn’t a true calling, just something he fell into. But he is known for a very strong work ethic on set and will do endless takes to achieve the desired standard.

His films have earned US$2.4 billion from 25 theatrical releases worldwide, especially in the genre of romantic comedy. Although recently he played several non-comedic cameo roles, all in one film. He plays six characters in the epic drama Cloud Atlas, all of which he said are, “incredibly evil”.

He has joined the latest craze to replace the ‘ice bucket challenge’. Launched by Jemima Khan, ‘wake up call’ is where famous people take pictures of themselves after they’ve just woken up. It raises money for Unicef’s Syria Emergency Fund. Others to do it are Stephen Fry, Derren Brown, Tom Hiddleston and Nigella Lawson.

For the sake of recognition and avoiding rejection I based my sketch on a more familiar looking Hugh. I was a last minute thing. The Odeon in London’s fashionable High Street Kensington is a little way out of my normal beaten track. Hugh makes his acting appear spontaneous. He is known for his nonchalant approach with a touch of sarcasm and irony, precisely timed dialogue, delivery and facial expressions.

Hugh was generous with his time for the sizeable crowd at the small cinema, signing graphs and posing for selfies. His quick efficient sig was splashed across my drawing, and belatedly I asked for a dedication, “To Mark” in my six-years-living-in-London-antipodean-accent. “Matt?” he asked, “no, with a k,” I replied. Puzzled, he gave his famous smile and returned the drawing to me…

Drawing: Joan Baez

joan baez

Joan Baez is the world’s best known female folk singer. She defined the American folk music boom in the 1960s, has influenced nearly every aspect of popular music ever since, and is still going strong. Being a life long pacifist and activist gives greater meaning to her music and lyrics.

“You don’t get to choose how you’re going to die, or when. You can only decide how you’re going to live”.

In a Guardian interview in 2006 by her own admission she only had two real hits; ‘The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down’ and ‘Diamonds and Rust’ but the music was always less important to her than the message, since walking on stage at the Newport Folk Festival in 1959 as an 18 year old. Since then she has not been in entertaining people so much as  moving them, making them feel “true to the spirit of the times”. Early in her career she played traditional folk music, adding political songs to her repertoire during the 1960s  decade of civil rights, advocating peace during the Vietnam War and social change. “I went to jail for 11 days for disturbing the peace. I was trying to disturb the war”

Joan played London’s Royal Albert Hall for four nights last week in what reviewers called, “a remarkable show that earned her a standing ovation”. I grew up listening to her music on the ‘wireless’ and my parents’ vinyl 45s . I was a nice moment to finally meet her. Most performers arrive at the Artists’ Entrance in flash, chauffeur driven cars, Joan arrived in a  cab. When I asked her if she wouldn’t mind signing my sketch she looked at it and said, “you’ve been busy”. Not half as busy as her and she’s still going strong.

Drawing: Sarah Goldberg in Clybourne Park at Wyndham’s Theatre

sarah goldberg

Canadian film, television and stage actress Sarah Goldberg made a swift impression on the London Theatre scene. After graduating form the prestigious London Academy of Music & Dramatic Art she stayed on and picked up an Olivier Award for Best Supporting Actress in Bruce Norris’ Pulitzer Prize winning play Clybourne Park. An ensemble of seven versatile actors plays two sets of characters in a black comedy of manners, fifty years apart.

Sarah played dual roles of Betsy, a deaf, pregnant wife of a racist community activist in the 1950s and Lindsey, the contemporary and also pregnant home buyer whose renovations disturb her African American neighbours.

The production premiered in the UK in August 2010 at the Royal Court Theatre, directed by Dominic Cooke before transferring to Wyndham’s in London’s West End with most of the original cast.

Drawing: Fiona Button and Elliot Cowan in An Ideal Husband at the Vaudeville Theatre

cowan:button

Lindsay Posner’s production of Oscar Wilde’s An Ideal Husband, a classic comedy of political blackmail and corruption played London’s Vaudeville Theatre during the festive season of 2010.

Wilde gave the funniest lines to Lord Arthur Goring. SOme have suggested that the character with his similar wit and fashion to be based on the playwright himself. The ‘dandy’ was portrayed by Elliot Cowan, with his fancy threads and wayward habits, which critics agreed made “a splendidly lived in hero”.

He is engaged to Miss Mabel Chiltern, who, at half his age, is play by Fiona Button, “…whose silken repartee flowed as elegantly as her skirts”.

Her line “An ideal husband! Oh, I don’t think I should like that,” sums up her innocence. Both Fiona and Elliot signed this black biro sketch amongst the snow flurries at the uncovered Vaudeville stage door.

Drawing: Lisa Dwan in Not I, Footfalls and Rockaby

lisa dwan

Irish actress Lisa Dwan has just completed a two week solo season of three short works by fellow Celt Samuel Beckett, following critically acclaimed sold-out performances at the Royal Court Theatre and the West End. Not I, Footfalls and Rockaby completed its sold out run today (30 August 2014) at the Southbank Centre’s Purcell Room in Central London as part of the Festival of Love.

Lisa plays the part of Mouth in Not I, a nine minute monologue where the audience sees only a woman’s disembodied mouth suspended eight feet above a black stage. To achieve this Lisa wears black makeup, a black blindfold, covers her hair with black tights, then straps her head to a blackboard with a hole in it – so that her mouth stays in the single beam of light. She first performed the piece in 2005.

It’s certainly one of the most challenging stage roles with total sensory deprivation. “I can’t see or hear anything. It’s like driving down the motorway the wrong way with no handbrake  – it’s terrifying… but it’s almost the most exhilarating role I’ve ever known,” Lisa said in an interview. The crucial thing is it’s done at speed – after a lifetime of virtual speechlessness, the character has ‘verbal diarrhoea’.

Completing the Becket trilogy is Footfalls, the moving story of May who moves back and forth like a metronome on a bare landing outside her dying mother’s room, and his most famous piece Rockaby with a woman recounting moments form her past sitting in her rocking chair. Metro called it “A mesmerising, heart-wrenching, terrifying triple.” The Standard simply said, “sensationally good” and The Telegraph said, “A stunning performance.”

Drawing: Gemma Chan in Yellow Face at The National Theatre

Gemma Chan

This mischievous comedy was performed in The Shed at the National Theatre last month featuring Gemma Chan in its ensemble cast. Written by Chinese-American playwright David Henry Hwang, it starts with his key role in the US Actors Equity Association protests against the casting of Jonathan Pryce as the Eurasian engineer in the Broadway version of Miss Saigon.

Many Asian-Americans and others regarded this as an example of “yellow face” casting – a caucasian actor applying make-up to portray a character of Asian descent.

Its a ‘mockumentary’ about an Asian-American playwright who, after protesting the casting of Price, accidentally casts a white actor as the Asian lead in his own play Face Value believing him to be of mixed race. He discovers that he is 100% white and tries to cover up to protect his reputation as an Asian-American role model.

It is notable that the National Theatre’s Artistic Director, Nicholas Hytner was the director of Miss Saigon. He amusingly programmed Yellow Face to run in the exact month Saigon returned to the West End. Oxford educated Gemma hailed her breakthrough in “colour-blind casting” when she won her first classical role in theatre, playing the war goddess Athena in Our Ajax at the Southwark Playhouse in 2013. The Sherlock and Jack Ryan actress still believes that actors of East Asian descent still don’t get opportunities white actors do. “I have to fight hard to get parts that don’t have something to do with China,” she said in a recent interview.

Drawing: Ian McDiarmid and Kathleen Turner in Bakersfield Mist at the Duchess Theatre

Ian McDiarmid Kathleen Turner

Bakersfield Mist marks the return to the London stage of multi award winner Kathleen Turner for the first time since her tour-deforce performance in Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? She plays opposite Olivier and Tony winner Ian McDiarmid.

Inspired by true events, Stephen Sachs new play debates the nature of authenticity. Kathleen plays Maude, a boozy ex-bartender living in a Bakersfield trailer park who picks up what she claims is a Jackson Pollock for five bucks while trawling through a junk shop.

Ian is Lionel, a lecturer in Abstract Expressionism at Princeton University who is asked to verify the painting or declare it a fake. The play goes beyond the painting. It’s a culture clash between a woman desperately seeking validation for her life and a snobbish connoisseur of fine art. Which one is real?

While I was drawing the sketch I was reminded of Kathleen’s infamous line as the uncredited voice of Jessica Rabbit, Roger Rabbit’s flirtatious toon wife in Who Framed Roger Rabbit? In an interview she said it was just fun to do and that line was too good to pass up. Apparently half her autograph requests are to sign Jessica photos.

I met Kathleen and Ian after Wednesday’s (18 June) evening performance at the Duchess Theatre. They both liked the sketch and were happy to sign it. I was tempted to ask Kathleen to write her Jessica line, but maybe I’ll keel that request for another sketch. I think The Graduate would be more appropriate.