Tom Littler’s production of THE TEMPEST at the Jermyn Street Theatre in London, featuring Michael Pennington as Prospero, opened in March 2020 for a five week season. After only six performances it was forced to close due to the Covid lockdown. Eighteen months later it set sail again, and even though the Omnicron variant, currently rampaging through the West End, is causing show disruptions, the production looks likely to complete its rescheduled run this week.
One of the foremost Shakespearean actors of his generation, Michael’s distinguished career is dominated by a variety of leading stage roles for the Royal Shakespeare Company, the National Theatre and the English Shakespeare Company, which he co-founded and was its Artistic Director from 1986-1992. The four-time Olivier Award nominee has also toured two solo shows; SWEET WILLIAM and ANTON CHEKHOV worldwide. Earlier this year he released a memoir, entitled ‘In My Own Footsteps’.
“Being taken to the theatre when I was 11 years old lit a light in me, and that light has never gone out.”Michael’s latest stage performmance drew universal acclaim. In the West End’s smallest producing theatre, he is “a colossal Prospero”, wrote Broadway World. The Guardian’s Arifa Akbar said, “The magic spark in this production lies largely in Pennington’s Prospero… a physically wizened but still mighty magician and displaced Duke.
“Michael also has a number of screen appearances to his impressive credit list, including CALLAN, THE BILL, THE TUDORS and FATHER BROWN on television and as Moff Jerjerrod in STAR WARS: RETURN OF THE JEDI (1983) and Michael Foot in THE IRON LADY (2011) on the big screen.
I met Michael a couple of weekends ago as he arrived at the Jermyn Street Theatre for a Saturday matinee, where he kindly signed my Prospero portrait for me.
Shakespearean stalwart Amanda Harris won the Best Performance in a Supporting Role Olivier Award in 2005 for her portrayal of Emilia, the wife of the evil Iago (played by Anthony Sher) and Desdemona’s maidservent in the 2004 Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of OTHELLO, directed by Gregory Doran. After its initial staging in Stratford-upon-Avon, followed by a tour of Japan it returned to England and opened the larger of the two theatres at the Trafalgar Studios in London in June.
My wife and I were fortunate to see Amanda in the RSC’s staging of THE TAMING OF THE SHREW at the Barbican Theatre in London in 2019 as part of our annual Shakespearean tradition to celebrate our wedding anniversary. The production switched the genders for every role with Amanda playing Minola Baptista, one of the wealthiest ‘men’ in Padua and ‘father’ of Kate, the ‘shrew’ of the play’s title and Bianca.
Her screen credentials include appearances in all the popular British TV programmes, including MIDSOMER MURDERS, THE BILL, A TOUCH OF FROST and HEARTBEAT. Amanda has taught drama and Shakespeare at the University of Alicante in Spain and is an Associate Artist at the RSC, where I sent this Emilia/Baptista sketch of her as for her to sign, which she kindly did and returned with a nice complementary note.
Considered as one of the finest classical actors of his time, Sir Antony Sher joined the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1982. Three years later, in his breakthrough role as RICHARD III he won his first Olivier Award, which he described as “my first attempt at one of the great roles.” Since then he has played them all – Lear, Macbeth, Shylock, Titus to name a few.
His second Olivier was for his portrayal of English painter Stanley Spencer in STANLEY in 1987. Sir Antony’s Shakespearian accolades don’t stop with his stagework, winning a Screen Actors Guild award in the same year as part of the ensemble cast in SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE.
Sir Antony signed my RIchard III sketch at the Harold Pinter Theatre stage door on Saturday as he arrived for his final performance in the first production of the PINTER AT THE PINTER season.
Claire Price joined the cast of Jonathan Munby’s KING LEAR, for its limited West End transfer to the Duke of York’s, after the productions critically acclaimed sell-out run at Chichester’s Minerva Theatre.
Claire plays the ruthless, uptight older sister Goneril… described by one reviewer as a ‘Sloaney, (for those not familiar with the term, it’s a portmanteau of Sloane Square in London’s Chelsea, famed for the wealth and affluent lifestyle of its residents) pearls-and-headscarf Goneril’.
Claire is no stranger to Shakespeare. Previous roles include Beatrice in MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING, Miranda in THE TEMPEST and Rosalind in AS YOU LIKE IT. She’s also well known to UK TV viewers as DS Siobhan Clarke in REBUS and many guest appearances on popular shows such as AGATHA CHRISTIE’S POIROT and MIDSOMER MURDERS.
Thankfully Claire is the complete opposite to her LEAR stage persona and signed my sketch at the stage door, heading in for last Saturday’s matinee, one of the 100 performances scheduled to finish in early November.
Danny Webb’s extensive stage career includes moments of blindness, two grisly moments in fact, both critically acclaimed. The latest can be seen in Jonathan Munby’s ‘dazzling’ production of Shakespeare’s KING LEAR at the Duke of York’s Theatre.
Playing the Earl of Gloucester in the Chichester Festival Theatre’s West End transfer, opposite Sir Ian McKellen’s tragic monarch, Danny is tied to a chair while his eyes are gouged out, cited by one critic as channeling Quentin Tarantino’s RESERVOIR DOGS. The blinding of Gloucester scene is considered by many who consider these things as structurally and conceptually the play’s centre piece.
Eight years ago Danny won the Off West End Best Actor Award for his portrayal of Ian, a seedy, hard-drinking journo in the revival of Sarah Kane’s provocative BLASTED at the Lyric Hammersmith. Set in a luxury hotel room in Leeds, Ian and his much younger girlfriend Cate’s tryst intentions are dramatically interrupted by a soldier with a sniper’s rifle and an explosion that reduces everything to a shattered ruin. Cate escapes, but Ian is anally raped and his eyes sucked out by the menacing military man.
He signed my Shakespeare sketch a few weeks back after a matinee performance at the Duke of York’s before he returned to have his eyes ripped out that evening.
Northern Irish actress Michelle Fairley is well known to TV viewers as Catelyn Stark in GAME OF THRONES and the recurring role of Dr Ava Hessington in the US Network series SUITS. She has also appeared in such British classics as THE BILL, HOLBY CITY, CASULTY and LOVEJOY. On the bigger screen, Michelle played Mrs Granger in the HARRY POTTER AND THE DEADLY HALLOWS films.
Her extensive stage work includes an Olivier Award nomination for her portrayal as Emilia in the Donmar Warehouse 2007 production of Shakespeare’s OTHELLO. Earlier this year she played the rash, impassioned soldier and conspirator Cassius in another one of the Bard’s tragedies JULIUS CAESAR at the new Bridge Theatre situated by a Tower Bridge on London’s South Bank.
It was described by the Metro’s theatre critic, appropriately named Adam Bloodworth as a “turbo-charged performance.”
I left this sketch of Michelle at the stage door and it came back, signed and dedicated.
After a decade, Sir Ian McKellen returned to play KING LEAR at the Chichester Festival Theatre in a sold-out five-week season late last year. Having played the role in Trevor Nunn’s 2007 production for the Royal Shakespeare Company, Sir Ian felt that performing it in vast theatre’s meant he declaimed lines that should have been more softly spoken or even whispered.
The contemporary retelling of Shakespeare’s most unforgiving tragedy in the intimate 280 seat, wrap around Minerva stage gave him that chance and at 78 he is closer to Lear’s age, which helped him achieve his aim: not to act Lear, but to be Lear in what is “probably his last big Shakespeare part,” according to a recent BBC interview.
The critics agreed, after six decades of acting, Sir Ian ‘reigned supreme’. “McKellen is never less than astonishing,” wrote Neil Norman in the Express, “McKellen is in full command of a lifetime’s acting technique,” said Mark Stenton in The Stage and ‘McKellen meticulously explores Lear’s delusions of grandeur,” exclaimed the Metro’s John Nathan.
I left this drawing at the theatre, which Sir Ian signed and dedicated with a bronze sharpie complete with a metallic glow on his insignia.
After a sell-out run at the Almeida Theatre, Richard Icke’s acclaimed adaption of Shakespeare’s HAMLET transferred to the Harold Pinter Theatre in London’s West End in June with BAFTA and double Olivier-winner Andrew Scott as the Danish Prince.
In her five-star Guardian review, Kate Kellaway called the production “an all-consuming marvel. Andrew Scott’s prince proves a brilliant communicator.”
Andrew signed my drawing for me after I left it at the stage door.
Nigerian-born British actor Chukwudi Iwuji (usually shortened to Chuk), was sent to an English boarding school at age 10 while his parents worked for the UN in Ethiopia. He studied economics at Yale University before going to drama school then returned to the UK and became a stalwart of the Royal Shakespeare Company. His one ambition was to play HAMLET with them, but that opportunity came last year when he played the Danish Prince at New York’s Public Theatre in a three-week run after a tour of prisons, homeless shelters and senior citizen’s venues. The previous year he was also in the Big Apple in Christopher Marlowe’s TAMBURLAINE THE GREAT at the Theatre for New Performance. Both roles were captured in my sketch which Chuk signed for me at the Barbican while he was appearing in OBSESSION opposite Jude Law.
I drew this sketch of Roger Allam as Prospero and Jessie Buckley as Miranda from Jeremy Herrin’s production of THE TEMPEST which was part of the 2013 season at Shakespeare’s Globe in London. But I never got the chance to get it signed at the time. It’s what I call ‘siguations vacant’.I have numerous unsigned sketches in my bag, just in case I cross paths with those rendered. Jessie actually signed a short while after the season finished at her London agency, but I’ve been waiting for Roger to walk the boards again. This seems to happen at three to four year intervals, between his screen commitments. Having won the Olivier for his magnificent performance as Falstaff in HENRY IV PARTS 1 & 2 at the Globe in 2010, he returned for THE TEMPEST three years later. He did so again, albeit it a little longer, last month in LIMEHOUSE at the Donmar Warehouse, where I managed to meet up with him on a quiet Saturday morning to complete the sketch signing.