“Hold on to your music, it will be your best friend,” was the last thing young 14 year-old Austrian piano prodigy Lisa Jura’s mother told her as she boarded the ‘Kindertransport’ in 1938 bound for London. She was one of the 10,000 Jewish children bought to England before WW2 as part of the mission to rescue them from the threat of the Nazi regime and it’s anti-Semitic violence. Torn from her family and just about to embark on a concert career in Vienna, Lisa spent the war years, surviving the Blitz in a rambling hostel that housed 30 children on Willesden Lane in North London. She later resumed to her concert career and married French Resistance hero Michel Golabek, moving to Los Angeles in the early 1950’s.
In 2002 their daughter and renowned concert pianist, Grammy-nominated Mona Golabek co-wrote with Lee Cohen, the book ‘The Children of Willesden Lane’ that chronicles her mother’s wartime experiences. She adapted the publication into a one woman play, THE PIANIST OF WILLESDEN LANE, which opened at LA’s Geffen Playhouse in April 2012 and transferred to London’s St Jame’s Theatre in January this year, selling out and receiving a galaxy of stars from all the critics. The Londonist said, “Effortlessly moving, joyful, sobering and spellbinding.” Due to the demand, Mona has returned for an encore season until 22 October. I left this drawing at the theatre and she kindly signed and dedicated it for me, returning it with a thank you note.
Stella Feehily’s NHS-in-crisis drama THIS MAY HURT A BIT ran at the St James Theatre in London, appropriately in May 2014 after a National tour. Directed by her husband Max Stafford-Clark, the play is based on his own experience after suffering a stroke. Beloved British actress Stephanie Cole played Iris, a feisty 90 year-old suffering from bouts of memory loss. In hospital she shares a ward with a recently expired corpse and John, a vicar, who has lost his ability to speak.
“Stephanie Cole breaks your hearts with Iris’s mixture of gallantry and pathos,” wrote Jane Shilling in her Telegraph review.
Stephanie’s long and distinguished stage and screen career has seen her appear in a number of high-profile productions. Her TV roles include Aunty Joan in DOC MARTIN, Delphine Featherstone in OPEN ALL HOURS and STILL OPEN ALL HOURS and Sylvia Goodwin in CORONATION STREET. Her stage appearances include Miss Casewell in THE MOUSETRAP at the Ambassador’s Theatre in 1968 and her most prominent role as Betty in the 1994 hit comedy A PASSIONATE WOMAN at the Comedy Theatre, which enjoyed an extended nine-month run. After the final night’s curtain call she was the subject of THIS IS YOUR LIFE.
I left this sketch of Stephanie with her London agents and it came back signed with a note attached, ‘what a good portrait!’… so I guess she liked it.
I often use the word favourite. That’s because many of the people I draw are favourites or appear in favourite productions. In the words of Julie Andrews, ‘these are a few of my favourite things’, which is easier than saying ‘supercalifragilisticexpialidocious’.
Jack Lemmon was a favourite. Well, he still is. They continue to ‘live’ and the Hollywood legend’s only son, Chris has made sure of that with his autobiographical play, A TWIST OF LEMMON, celebrating his famous father. It’s based on his 2006 book ‘A Twist of Lemmon: A Tribute To My Father.’ The forward is written by Kevin Spacey, who credits Jack with his pursuit of acting. He would say, people who do well in this business have an obligation to send the elevator back down to help lift people starting out on the ground floor.”
Obviously Chris has more than a passing resemblance to his dad with the familiar impish grin and other Lemmonesque mannerisms. It’s hard to believe it’s Chris and not Jack onstage,” wrote Jordan Young in the LA Examiner.
He bought his solo show to the St James Theatre in London this month. It’s two hours of stories and anecdotes, a mixture of impersonating his father and being himself, punctuated by jazz standards. “How do you follow in the footsteps of a giant?” he asks the audience as he talks about what it was like to grow up with an internationally loved celebrity and how that impacted on a normal father-son relationship and his own aspirations under the weight of his father’s Oscar-winning heritage.
Described as beautiful, complex and poignant. It’s a touching tribute of a multifaceted yet troubled actor. In her review for British Theatre.Com, Helena Payne wrote, “Lemmon Jr brims with a boundless energy, his story telling is on point. He beautifully portrays Jack as he realises the joy of performing and making people laugh.”
Chris signed this drawing for me at the theatre and wrote me a nice note.
Wolfgang Armadeus Mozart had a sister who was equally brilliant-a prodigy keyboard virtuoso and composer named Maria Anna, called Marianne or by her nickname Nannerl. They would tour Europe together as the ‘wunderkinder’. However history seemed to forget her, until Polish award-winning actress,playwright and producer…oh,and violinist, non resident in New York, Sylvia Milo wrote and performed her solo play, The Other Mozart about the forgotten sibbling. the new york times described it as ‘strikingly beautiful.’ After a successful off-Broadway run, Sylvia bought it to the St James Theatre in London for a short season last month. “I am writing to you with an erection on my head and i am very much afraid of burning my hair,” she wrote to Wolfgang about her large ‘erected’ hairdo for the Mozart family portrait. Sylvia replecates the hairstyle and an even larger dress that covers the entire stage as she plays the lost genius.
Sylvia signed my sketch and was delivered through my mailbox with a large wet liquid patch on the envelope-like a seal that smelt of some berry juice. unfortunately it didn’t stop there and stained the sketch, so Sylvia’s won’t have to worry about burn in hair with a watermark absorbed into her forehead.
Joshua Harmon’s corrosive family comedy BAD JEWS, directed by Michael Longhurst just completed it’s extended West End run at the Arts Theatre in London on Saturday. It originated at the Theatre Royal Bath’s Ustinov Studio last year before transferring to the St James Theatre in London in January then onto the Arts a month later.
Described by WhatsOnStage as a “brutal, feral script with great soul” it centres on a gathering of three jewish cousins in a cramped Manhattan apartment for their grandpa’s funeral. Daphna (Jenna Augen), a puritanical vegan uber-Jewess and Rabbi in training is jealous of Jonah (Joe Coen) and Shlomo (Ilan Goodman), who calls himself Liam, because their wealthy parents bought them a flat before either had found a job. Liam is a self-styled ‘bad jew’,obsessed with Japanese culture and intends to marry out of the faith. He arrives late, missing the funeral because he was skiing (apparently a non-Jewish activity) in Aspen with his dim, but beautiful gentile girlfriend Melody (Gina Bramhill). The crux of the conflict is a lucky medallion, a treasured family heirloom, which their grandfather hid in his mouth during years in a concentration camp. Daphna and Liam both claim it, but the latter has it in his pocket and intends to give it to Melody as a marriage garland. Daphna is displeased, screaming, get it off her “Christian c**t neck!”
Paul Taylor in the Independent put it simply, “blisteringly funny…brilliantly acted.”
I, as usual left it to the last day to get my sketch signed, but not the last performance. I thought I would attempt to get the cast going in for the matinee in an already over-subscribed saturday stalking schedule. Getting there at noon, the very helpful box office staff told me that they all arrive at different times, but usually after 1.30. Plan B. I wrote a quick note and left it with a stamped envelope (a sig stalker is always prepared) and one of my black Pentel fine point pens… oh yes and the drawing (which once or twice I’ve forgotten to include, but that’s for another time), with the aforementioned wonderful staff. ‘No Problem, the Production Manager calls past before each performance – we’ll give it to her”, and ‘mazel tov’ to me… it arrived, signed in my post box, within three days.
American born, naturalised British comedian Ruby Wax recently graduated from Oxford University with a Master’s Degree in Mindfulness based Cognitive Therapy. In 2013, her book Sane New World became a number one best seller which she has now turned into a stage show.
On her website, Ruby says she had a gift for canoeing, but was forced to drop it because there was no future in it, so she classically trained at the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1978 followed by 25 years on BBC and Channel Four. Ruby was nominated for a BAFTA Award in 1996 for her interview with Sarah Duchess of York, and interview that attracted over 14 million viewers.
Sane New World helps us understand why we sabotage our own sanity and provides a manual on how to survive the 21st Century.
It has just completed a sold out run at the St James Theatre in London where she signed my sketch, before taking the show down under during April and returning to the UK for a national tour.