On the stage door wall of the Noel Coward Theatre in the heart of the West End is a wonderful poster for GIRL FROM THE NORTH COUNTRY featuring the two leads, Ciaran Hinds and Shirley Henderson. I got out my pad and sketched it… and they signed it for me.
I was really pleased to see both were nominated for Olivier Awards for their ‘mesmerising’ performances, which will be announced early next month. After a sold-out run at the Old Vic, Connor McPherson’s production, featuring the music of Bob Dylan is set in the Depression era, in a guesthouse in Bob’s hometown, Duluth, Minnesota, run by the gruff owner Nick Laine (Ciaran) and his wife Elizabeth (Shirley) who suffers from dementia. They anchor a large ensemble cast.
Irish playwright and director Conor McPherson’s new Dust Bowl drama GIRL FROM THE NORTH COUNTRY, incorporating the music of Bob Dylan, opened last Summer with a sell-out run at The Old Vic, before transferring to the Noel Coward Theatre in London’s West End. Claire Allfree, in The Telegraph headlined her review with “A magical fusion of Dylan and the Depression.”
Conor beautifully weaves the iconic songs (21 of them) of Bob Dylan into his show of hope, heartbreak and soul. It is set in a struggling guesthouse in Dylan’s hometown of Duluth, Minnesota, during the Great Depression, where poverty is rife amongst the gathering of the dispossessed and the most affected citizens… a place Ben Brantley in the New York Times describes as “a corner of the United States where it is all too easy to lose your way.”
The production and the cast has received unanimous critical acclaim, with Scottish BAFTA-winning actress Shirley Henderson portrayal of Elizabeth Laine, the wife of the inn-keeper Nick ( Ciaran Hinds) gaining special mention. In the grip of dementia and nearly feral, Shirley’s performance is nothing short of mesmerising.
“Henderson delivers a smoking version of ‘Like A Rolling Stone’,” wrote Natasha Tripney in TheStage. I met Shirley at the stage door last weekend after a matinee, where she signed my montage sketch for me.
The Noel Coward Theatre is Ian Bartholomew’s second home. Three shows in three years at the West End venue and two Olivier nominations. The front of house staff even gave him a plaque to mark the occasion. In 2014/15 he appeared in the stage version of SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE as Sir Edmund Tylney, the man responsible for drama censorship in Elizabethan England.
Then he played the feisty impresario Vivian Van Damm in MRS HENDERSON PRESENTS last year and he is currently playing the eccentric playwright Critterlow in HALF A SIXPENCE, both roles he ‘got the nod’ for an Olivier nom. He signed my Critterlow sketch between shows on Saturday.
Emma Williams is hoping it will be fourth time lucky at this year’s Olivier Awards. The popular British musical theatre actress earned nomination number four for her current role as Helen Walsingham in the Chichester Festival Theatre’s production of HALF A SIXPENCE, which transferred to London’s Noel Coward Theatre last month. She recently won the WhatsOnStage Award, so here’s hoping!
Emma is also an accomplished songwriter, musician and writer, and is working on her first novel. After her professional stage debut in 2002 at the age of 18 as Truly Scrumptious in the original cast of CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG at the London Palladium, Emma has originated a further five roles in the West End.
Her first Olivier nom was for Luisa in ZORRO at the Garrick in 2008, followed by Jenny in LOVE STORY at the Duchess and as Maureen last year in MRS HENDERSON PRESENTS at the Noel Coward, where I managed to catch her last Saturday after the SIXPENCE matinee and she signed this portrait sketch for me. She remembered my MRS HENDERSON drawing which she also graphed. I wished her luck for the big night, which is on 9 April.
When Daniel Radcliffe played Billy Craven, the lead in Martin McDonagh’s dark comedy THE CRIPPLE OF INNISHMAAN at the Noel Coward Theatre in 2013, I drew a number of sketches of him and the rest of the cast, which they all kindly signed for me. Daniel’s character, the orphan and outcast ‘Cripple Billy’, eager to escape the gossip, poverty and boredom if Innishmann, tries for a part in a Hollywood film in the neighbouring Inishmore and to everyone’s surprise, gets his chance.
Daniel signed the original of this drawing, but I wanted to add one of his best lies of dialogue, so on a copy of the sketch I added the text. He has returned to the London stage to star in the 50th anniversary of Tom Stoppard’s ROSENCRANTZ & GUILDENSTERN ARE DEAD at the Old Vic and was signing in the foyer after Saturday’s evening performance, which was a perfect opportunity to get it graphed and dedicated.
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.
It’s the Summer Holiday season and the magic spectacular IMPOSSIBLE has returned to it’s West End home at the Noel Coward Theatre. This reboot finally welcomes two female performers – ‘cutting edge conjuror’ Sabine van Diemen and ‘grand illusionist’ Josephine Lee, after being rightly criticised last year for its, as Fiona Mountford calls it in the Evening Standard, “bombastic all-male line-up … It’s pleasing to report that the new team boasts two women headline performers alongside the usual glamorous female assistants,” or as the Telegraph’s Claire Allfree states, “…the testosterone overloaded show that unbalanced it last year.” She among other critics made the point that in the previous production the purpose of anyone on stage with an extra X chromosome was either to be cut in two, made to disappear or have arrows fired at her head from a crossbow.
To be fair, Britain’s leading female magician Katherine Mills was included in last year’s line-up, but had to pull out for ‘unforeseen personal reasons’. But magic is predominately a male domain with only 100 of the UK’s 1,500 Magic Circle members are women. That imbalance has been addressed with Sabine and Josephine, both ex-assistants of the famed Vegas act Hans Klok.
Sabine gets her own back on the magic patriarchy by bisecting a man in a box and Josephine strikes one for the sisterhood with two escapologist acts-one involving a padlocked water tank. The other five IMPOSSIBLE acts include this years’s Britain’s Got Talent winner the Household Cavalry’s Lance Corporal Richard Jones, hip-hop street magician Magic Bones who backflips while doing card tricks, escapologist and self-proclaimed ‘daredevil’ Jonathan Goodwin who sets his own crotch on fire, the charismatic mind-reader Chris Cox and the ‘boundary -breaking’ Ben Hart , both from BBC’s ‘Killer Magic’.
Sabine and Josephine appeared at the stage door after last Saturday’s matinee performance and signed their respective portrait sketches for me. Magic!
Terry Johnson’s musical stage adaption of the 2005 film MRS HENDERSON PRESENTS that featured Dame Judi Dench and Bob Hoskins, premiered at the Theatre Royal Bath last August and has transferred to London’s Noel Coward Theatre.
Olivier winner Tracie Bennett plays the eccentric 70 year-old widow Laura Henderson, who buys turns the London’s famous Windmill cinema into a live theatre, staging continuous variety revues at the beginning of the First World War. When her competition threatens to put her out of business, Mrs Henderson introduced female nudity, which was unprecedented in the UK at the time and based it on the Moulin Rouge in Paris. The Lord Chamberlain reluctantly agreed to the nudity under the condition that the performers remain immobile, thus becoming living works of art, similar to nude statues.
Olivier-nominated Emma Williams, along with Rhiannon Chesterman and Katrina Kleve are the show’s poster girls, perfect sketching subjects. I left this drawing at the theatre for them to sign which they kindly did.
Nicole Kidman returned to the West End after seventeen years absence in Anna Ziegler’s Photograph 51 at the Noel Coward Theatre on Saturday night. Directed by Michael Grandage, it revolves around the story of molecular biologist Roselind Franklin and one of the twentieth century’s greatest achievements, the discovery of the DNA double helix or what scientists called ‘the secret of life.’ Central to the narrative is ‘Photo 51’, the name given to an x-ray image taken by one of Franklin’s researchers at King’s College in London, which revealed the double helix shape of deoxyribonucleic acid, a crucial starting point for research by Francis Crick, James Watson and Maurice Wilkins who identified how DNA was structured. All three men received the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1962, four years after Franklin’s death of overian cancer at the age of 37. Debate about the amount of credit due to her still exists, but in his memoirs, Watson stated that ‘Photo 51’ provided the vital clue to the double helix. Many believe she should have been posthumously honoured by the Nobel Committee.
After receiving a standing ovation at the conclusion of Saturday night’s opening performance, Nicole graciously meet the huge throng waiting at the stage door barriers and did her best to sign and pose for more than 51 photographs as possible. Nicole’s signature probably has 51 plus variations. The common denominator is the downstroke of the first capital ‘N’ with a curl at it’s base, the rest can resemble multiple helixes, where sometimes you can make out a her name in various calligraphic contortions or a flourished line, as I got on this sketch. A glance around others who managed to get her graph confirmed this. Not one of them, apart from the said “N” looked the same. I guess you could say that everyone is truly original. Given the situation and the fact that she was only signing show material, I was pleased with the result.
I first met the exquisite Phoebe Waller-Bridge during the revival of Noel Coward’s Hay Fever at the Noel Coward Theatre in February 2012, where she was playing the “tittering nymph” Sorel Bliss. Amongst her dialogue is the line, “I should like to be a fresh, open air girl with a passion for games”.
The Guardian’s Michael Billington said her performance, “makes something truly memorable of Judith’s daughter, whom she plays as a gauche 19 year old trying strenuously hard to be soigné and sophisticated”.
“Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s breathtaking Sorel has perfected a gauche angularity, intermittent mannishness and a toddler’s baleful pout” wrote Kate Kellaway also in The Guardian.
Seen recently on TV as the steely young lawyer Abby Thompson in the popular ITV crime drama Broadchurch, the award winning actress writiter and director will now write and star in her own E4 comedy Crashing about a group of young property guardians. In a recent interview Phoebe spoke about writing and performing and, “the tiptoeing line between laughing and crying. That, for me is the key to drama. If you make people laugh, they make themselves so vulnerable to you… and then you can stab them”.