Anglo-Irish playwright, screenwriter and director Martin McDonagh’s latest stage play A VERY VERY VERY DARK MATTER opened last week at London’s Bridge Theatre. Set in Copenhagen, it delves behind the dark sources of the beloved fairytales of Danish children’s author Hans Christian Anderson.
Martin is a person I admire greatly. With no formal training he wrote a stack of plays in 1990s that made him one of the most celebrated new English-language dramatists of his generation. The first six, separated into two trilogies, are located in and around County Galway on Ireland’s western seaboard, where he spent most of his childhood holidays. His first non-Irish play, THE PILLOWMAN was staged at the National Theatre in 2003, winning the Olivier Award for Best New Play and was also Tony nominated in 2005. He had previously won the Olivier for THE LIEUTENANT OF INISMORE and collected his third for HANGMEN in 2016. He is yet to win a Tony after four nominations.
Martin has stated that it’s the screen, not the stage that is his favourite medium. In that realm, he is very very very much in demand after his third feature, THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI, which he wrote and directed, featured heavily during the latest awards season with seven Oscar nominations, including Best Picture and Original Screenplay. It won five BAFTAs from nine nominations, winning Best Film and Best British Film and Best Original Screenplay for Martin who also claimed the producing, writing and directing Golden Globes. He’s no stranger to film awards. His screenplay for his first feature, IN BRUGES (2008) won the BAFTA and he received his fourth nomination for an Oscar, which he won on his first attempt in 2005 for SIX SHOOTER in the Best Live Action Short category.
I was very very very pleased to meet Martin at the World Premiere of A VERY VERY VERY DARK MATTER at the Bridge Theatre last week where he signed my sketch.
I had always missed Christopher Hampton at various play openings and other events around London over the past few years. He was someone I really wanted to meet. When I heard he was part of the ‘Page to Screen’ panel at last weekend’s Man Booker 50 festival I quickly did this sketch and made my way to the Queen Elizabeth Hall on London’s Southbank on Saturday afternoon. Although Chris has not won a Booker Prize, he has pretty much won everything else.
The celebrated British playwright, screenwriter and translator’s 1985 play of seduction and revenge, LES LIAISONS DANGEREUSES, adapted from the 1782 novel of the same name by Pierce Choderlos de Laclos, won the Olivier Award for Best New Play after its run at The Pit theatre in the Barbican and a Tony nomination when it transferred to Broadway’s Music Box Theatre.
The film version, DANGEROUS LIAISONS directed by Stephen Frears collected multiple awards. Chris won both the Oscar and the BAFTA as well as the London Critics’ Circle and the Writers Guild of America Awards for his screenplay adaption. In 1995 he won two Tony Awards; Best Original Score and Best Book of a Musical; for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s SUNSET BOULEVARD.
The stage door at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, or as the Southbank Centre people like to call it, the ‘Artists’ Entrance’ is tucked away around the back of the venue between it and the British Film Institute in a concrete canyon opposite a multi-storied car park. A tricky place to find, as an acclaimed writer found out. However, for stalkers armed with sharpies, it’s an essential part of our MO.
When I saw a person who looked lost and more importantly, looked like my drawing, I was able to use my sense of direction for mutual gain, assisting Chris to the said entrance in return for signing the said rendering. Reciprocity is always a good thing in this business… plus we had a nice chat as I helped him successfully complete his journey.
One of my favourite plays and films is THE DRESSER, written by Sir Ronald Harwood. After arriving in London from South Africa in 1951, Sir Ronald studied at RADA and then joined the Shakespearian company of Sir Donald Wolfit and became his personal dresser.
He wrote the play THE DRESSER in 1980, based on his experiences. It an account of an ageing actor’s personal assistant, struggling to keep his charge’s life together. The 1983 film version earned him Academy Award and BAFTA screenplay nominations. Sir Ronald did win the Adapted Screenplay Oscar in 2003 for Roman Polanski’s THE PIANIST.
He also won the BAFTA four years later for his adaption of Jean-Dominique Bauby’s memoirs THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY, as well as another Oscar nom. I did this quick drawing of Sir Ronald a couple of weeks ago and sent it to him at his London home and it came back signed.
“I hope my plays hold up in 400 years time, that’s the real test,” Sir Alan Ayckbourn once said. Well, none of us will be around to find out, but all 82 of them are certainly more than holding their own during his lifetime and a few to come.
Regarded as one of the world’s pre-eminent dramatists, Sir Alan is known for satirising middle class manners since his first West End hit RELATIVELY SPEAKING in 1968. Most of his plays started life in his beloved Stephen Joseph Theatre – named after his mentor – in Scarborough where Sir Alan was Artistic Director for 37 years, retiring in 2009. In that time such classics as ABSURD SINGULAR SINGULAR, BEDROOM FARCE, A CHORUS OF DISAPPROVAL, HOW THE OTHER HALF LOVES and THE NORMAN CONQUESTS were born.
“The joy of the English Language is in its infinite capacity for being misunderstood,” he said in a recent interview. I like his 2004 quote, “I am a playwright. Right? Writing is part of my ancient rite. It is my god-given right to write. I exercise that quite rightly, and write, write, write.”
I have had the privilege of meeting Sir Alan on a couple of occasions at London press nights and sent him this quick portrait drawing last week, which he kindly signed and returned.