Playwright of the moment, James Graham currently has two plays featuring in the West End, only doors apart on St Martin’s Lane. INK, the story of the Sun newspaper opened at the Duke of York’s in September after transferring from the Almeida Theatre and at the Noel Coward Theatre, his take on the Labour party’s thorny past, LABOUR OF LOVE opened earlier this month with Martin Freeman and Tamsin Greig in the lead roles.
It’s very rare to have a new play open directly into the West End without a prior try-out lelsewhere. Martin plays David Lyons, Oxford educated Blairite MP for the East Midlands and Tamsin is Jean Whittaker, the long-time constituency office agent of the staunch leftie old guard persuasion. Described as a political romcom, LABOUR OF LOVE is set on the night of the 2017 election night rewinding back through the party’s history over the previous 27 years.
It’s full of gags such as this one when Jean comments on the party selecting the red rose when rebranding in the nineties, “it looks pretty, but it’s full of pricks.” Both Martin and Tamsin signed this sketch for me last weekend at the stage door.
Martin Freeman made his Shakespearean debut on the London stage, transforming from a friendly Hobbit to a villainous sovereign in Jamie Lloyd’s vigorous, contemporary production of Richard III at the Trafalgar Studios last summer. ‘Ricardian’s’, as the medieval monarch’s modern-day followers are called, believe in the revisionists version of the last English King to fall in battle, which is in sharp contrast to the figure portrayed in the Bard’s version. Since supposedly finding his remains under a Council car park in Leicester and the pomp and pageantry surrounding the reburial, 529 and a half years after his demise, the stocks of the last Plantagenet ruler have risen appreciably. Archaeologists and academics have reconstructed the face of the skull and said he had much kinder features, therefore he couldn’t have been a tyrant. I kid you not.That’s of course if the car park bones are really Richards. Many believe they are not. So I guess casting Bilbo Baggins with his genial guise as the bloodthirsty antagonist ‘slashing his way through the family tree en route to the throne’ allowed for some options if required. A Tolkien gesture one could say. In the end, Martin played it as Wills intended (albeit shorter for modern attention spans) and played it well during the limited three month run.
I drew this sketch of Martin in the royal role, but never actually joined the hordes at the post-performance rituals. It stayed, along with others in my ‘pending’ folder, ready to be activated and penned when future opportunities warranted. One such moment came a few months ago as he left the Donmar Warehouse as an audience member and he stopped to sign for a small horde. This is when I realised I should have revised my filing system in the said pending folder to allow me to find the necessary item within the restricted timeframe. I could have got him to sign Meryl Streep, Cate Blanchett, Robert De Niro, or even Arnold Schwarzenegger’s sketches though. It was only after he had left that I found his drawing. On Saturday evening he attended the BFI London Film Festival Awards. I had already got Cate earlier at the Truth premiere, so that eliminated one obstacle in my file. Plus I had the Richard III ready and when he emerged at a quarter past the witching hour with his agreeable face on, I got it graphed.
Clybourne Park was written by Bruce Norris in 2010 and received its UK premiere at the Royal Court Theatre in London, directed by Dominic Cooke and featuring Martin Freeman and Sophie Thompson.
It explores the fault line between race and property. In the first half it’s 1959, Russ and Bev are selling their desirable two bed home at a low price. This enables the first black family to move into the neighbourhood causing ripples of discontent amongst the cosy white urbanites of Clybourne Park. In the second half it’s 2009, the same property is being bought by Lindsey and Steve, whose plan to raze the house and start again is met with a similar response.
It won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the Tony and Oliver for Best New Play.
Martin (Russ) signed my sketch at the British Independent Film Awards at the Old Billingsgate Fish Market and Sophie signed at the Wyndham’s Theatre stage door after it transferred in 2011, without Martin and Steffan Rhodri.
The Moêt British Independent Film Awards were held at the Old Billingsgate Fish Market in the Shadow of Tower Bridge in December 2010. This time I was on the other side, covering the event for the Irish World – always awkward asking for ‘graphs when you’re interviewing the stars and supping on the sponsor’s product!
However, Martin is one of us: normal, nice and no expletives deleted. I had a couple of sketches on me from his role in the award winning Royal Court play Clybourne Park.
As a member of the forth estate one has to remain professional at all times… so I politely showed Martin the sketches and and said I could send them to his agent. He said “I’ll save you the stamps,” and we had a brief chat about his upcoming trip to Middle Earth (New Zealand) to play Bilbo Baggins in Peter Jackson‘s Hobbit.
As I write this, I discover that Martin has just won the Best Actor perspex trophy at the Empire Film Awards across town at the Grosvenor Hotel, for his Hobbit role, beating Lincoln and James Bond (Daniel Day Lewis and Daniel Craig).