Sketch: Amy Morgan, Hay Fever at the Noel Coward Theatre

Hay Fever Amy Morgan

TV audiences may know Welsh Amy Morgan as Mr Selfridge‘s accessories girl Grace Calthorpe gossiping among the gloves and bags, but I became aware of her acting prowess in Noel Coward’s country weekend comedy Hay Fever at London’s Noel Coward Theatre in 2012.

She played Jackie Coryton, described by critic Julia Rank, “Amy Morgan is  enjoyable as the ignored dumb blonde Jackie, perhaps the most endearing character, invited so that Mr Bliss could study a flapper in domestic surroundings”.

Kate Kellaway called Amy’s performance, “wonderful” in her Guardian review. Amy won a prestigious Ian Charleson Award nomination for The Country Wife at the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester She was awarded the runner up prize.

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Drawing: Toby Stephens and Anna-Louise Plowman in Private Lives at the Gielgud Theatre

Toby Stephens and Anna Louise Plowman

Husband and wife team Toby Stephens and Anna-Louise Plowman appeared in Noël Coward’s classic comedy Private Lives at the Gielgud Theatre in July 2013.

A married couple playing a married couple; the line between reality and fiction becomes blurred and hard to define – a bit of ‘dramatic ambiguity’. It was the second time they played newly-weds Elyot and Sybil after a successful run at Chichester the previous Autumn. The entire cast, including Anna Chancellor and Anthony Calf, transferred to the West End.

Coward’s tale is of former lovers Elyot and Amanda who meet five years after their divorce while both on honeymoon with new amours. Reignited passion follows. Toby’s parents Dame Maggie Smith and Robert Stephens previously starred in a John Gielgud directed production of the same play, alongside Anthony’s mother-in-law Polly Adams.

Toby and Anna-Louise both co-produced the London transfer and both happily signed my sketch the stage door on an autumnal evening in September 2013.

Drawing: Andrew Scott, Lisa Dillon and Tom Burke in Design for Living

Design for Living

Initially banned in the UK, Noël Coward’s 1932 provocative, witty, dark, bisexual comedy Design For Living had a major revival at London’s Old Vic in the Winter of 2010.

Directed by Old Vic Associate and Tony Award winner Anthony Page, the production featured Tom Burke (Otto), Lisa Dillon (Gilda) and Andrew Scott (Leo) as the menage-a-trois in this three act, two interval play.

Otto is a painter, Leo is a playwright and Gilda is an interior designer. The lines of engagement are: Gilda lives with artist Otto, but is equally drawn to playwright Leo. The two men, however, have enjoyed intimacy that predates Gilda.

Critic Michael Billington said, “the play offers a genuine contest between the bohemian talentocracy and moral orthodoxy. It is an attack on bourgeois stuffiness.”

As Leo puts it, “I love you. You love me. You love Otto. I love Otto. Otto loves you. Otto loves me,” providing the basis for the play’s plot convolutions.

Drawing: Freddie Fox in Hay Fever

Freddie Fox

The latest West End revival of Noel Coward’s comic play Hay Fever was staged, appropriately, at the Noel Coward Theatre in 2012. A cross between high farce and a comedy of manners, it is set in an English country house in the 1920s and deals with the four eccentric members of the Bliss family, and their outlandish behaviour. “Crisp comic bliss,” one critic wrote.

Frederic Samson Robert Morie Fox, thankfully abbreviated his name to Freddie, played Simon Bliss the son who was superbly resolute in his refusal to grow up. From the famous family of Foxes, Freddie definitely has the acting gene. The Observers Kate Kellaway described Freddie as, “deliciously debonair… a thespian treat, slightly teasing formality with poised charm.” He was certainly all that when he signed this sketch, after a summer evening’s performance in May 2012.

 

Drawing: Angela Lansbury in Blithe Spirit at the Gielgud Theatre

Angela Lansbury

 

Theatre legend, Oscar winner and five time Tony Award winner Dame Angela Lansbury returned to the West End this spring for the first time in nearly 40 years in a revival of Noel Coward’s 1941 glacial comedy Blithe Spirit at the Gielgud Theatre.

She reunites with director Michael Blackmore to reprise the role of one of stage’s most loveable gargoyles, the dotty mystical fraud, Madame Arcati. “It’s a  character Dame Angela adores. She’s completely off the wall but utterly secure in her own convictions.” She won her 5th Tony playing the part in 2009.

A sprightly (maybe spiritly) 88, she’s the oldest performer appearing on the West End stage, seven years Robert Vaughn‘s senior (who appears in Twelve Angry Men at the Garrick.) It’s a remarkable performance. She’s on stage for most of the two and a half hours with a huge amount of lines and some energetic dance routines.

Blithe Spirit runs until June 7.

Drawing: Hayley Mills

Hayley Mills

Hayley Catherine Rose Vivien Mills found fame at the age of 13 in Walt Disney’s Pollyanna. She won a special juvenile Oscar for her role and went on to make five other films for Disney to become one of the most popular actresses of the early sixties. Despite her long and successful career, Hayley isn’t sure she would have made it in acting had she not been a child star. “I started work at the right time. At 13 I was still spontaneous and unselfconscious.”

She mad an early stage debut as well, in the 60s  West End revival of Peter Pan, as the title character. Her Godfather was the playwright, actor and singer, Sir Noël Coward. In 1992 she toured New Zealand, Australia and the UK in his play Fallen Angels with her sister Juliet. It played my home town of Invercargill, New Zealand, and I was lucky enough to meet them both at the stage door of the Civic Theatre.

Hayley signed my sketch in London, at her agent’s office in 2010.

Drawing: Kim Cattrall in Private Lives at the Vaudeville Theatre

Kim Cattrall001

Emmy Award Winning American TV Actress Kim Cattrall is actually English-Canadian, born in Liverpool but immigrating to Canada when she was 3 months old. She returned to England at the age of 11 and has been a UK Stage and Screen regular over the past couple of decades.

In 2010 she headlined Noël Coward’s Private Lives at the Vaudeville Theatre to critical acclaim. I waited at the stage door after a Saturday matinée. Kim’s PA carefully scrutinised items for Kim to sign. They were strict on signing show material and the occasional autograph book. When she saw my sketch she quickly brought Kim over. They were so impressed they asked for a copy. I actually redrew another original and dropped it in a few days later. Kim sent me a thank you card, which is a rarity, so I guess she was really pleased with the sketch.