Drawing: Helena Bonham Carter in Sweeney Todd

helena bc

I drew this minimal fine line sketch of Helena Bonham Carter as Mrs Lovett in Tim Burton’s film version of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street for the 2007 Premiere,but never got it signed. Subsequently, Helena has signed another drawing I did, but this one has, for reasons that became clear yesterday, always stayed in my folder over the years.

I headed to the opening of this year’s BFI London Film Festival yesterday afternoon at the Odeon in Leicester Square, where Suffragette was screening, with Helena attending along with Meryl Streep and Carey Mulligan. I hadn’t intended ‘bothering’ Helena again, but the red carpet was invaded by the ‘Sisters Uncut’ action group, protesting against the government cuts in the service for domestic violence victims, which blocked the middle of the  red carpet. Helena had just arrived, so while the various authorities tried to sort out the interruption, she was kept down at the drop-off point and had more time to sign. I then remembered the Sweeney sketch was still on my personage…obviously a sign to sign and she did and in a variation I didn’t have in my collection-‘HBCr.’ When asked about the protest, Helena said, “Perfect…if you feel strong enough about something and there’s an injustice you can speak out and try to get something changed, “…an apt synopsis of the film really.

Drawing: Philip Quast

Phillip Quast

Australian actor and singer Philip Quast has won three Olivier Awards for Best Actor in a Musical. The powerful baritone’s impressive musical theatre career includes his career defining Inspector Javert for the original Australian production of Les Misérables, and later in London’s West End. In 1995 he was chosen for the 10th anniversary concert; Les Misérables: The Dream Cast in Concert at the Royal Albert Hall, which was beamed to a worldwinde audience and international recognition. He said he still gets mail about that performance. Colm Wilkinson played Jean Valjean and both are considered ‘definitives’ for the roles.

Playing Frenchmen seems to b a reoccurring pattern and an award winning one. Javert in Les Misérables, George Seurat in Sunday in the Park with George and Emile de Becque in South Pacific. Philip won Oliviers for the last two and in 1998 for his role as the crippled spin doctor in The Fix at London’s Donmar Warenouse.

Philip is currently playing the lecherous Judge Turpin in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street at the London Coliseum with Bryn Terfel and Emma Thompson. He had previously performed the role in a concert presentation alongside Bryn in 2007 at London’s Royal Festival Hall. This production is a transfer from last year’s staging in New York at the Lincoln Centre’s Avery Fisher Hall.

When I met Philip at the Coliseum’s stage door on a very warm spring afternoon he was full of the joys. There is an uncanny physical and voice similarity to Russell Crowe, who played Javert in Tom Hooper’s 2012 version of Les Mis. He also has a double in the cast, which I practiced on by mistake. Although flattered he obviously did not sign my sketch, preferring to leave it to the real Philip, who arrived half an hour later. The joys of autograph hunting.

‘Teeny Todd’ – Sweeney Todd by Tooting Arts Club, sketch

Sweeney Todd Tooting Arts Club

In the winter of 2014 the Tooting Arts Club staged Stephen Sondheim’s musical masterpiece Sweeney Todd in Harrington’s, London’s Oldest Pie and Mash Shop. The intimate staging of the production in the 106 year old establishment in a Tooting side street had phenomenal success. “Site specific theatre at its very best,” wrote Henry Hutchings in the Evening Standard. Punters congregated at Anton’s Barber Shop before being shown through to Harrington’s Pie and Mash Shop for a pie and the performance.

One of those punters happened to be Mr Sondheim himself, who was bowled over by the intensity of the production that he contacted his friend, a certain Sir Cameron Mackintosh, no less, who allowed the TAC to create the West End’s first pop up theatre in a disused nightclub space sandwiched between his more illustrious Gielgud and Queen’s theatres in Shaftesbury Avenue for its revival run until the end of May 2015.

Unlike the epic, star-studded concert version across town at the London Coliseum, the Tooting Arts Club’s tiny 36 seater show prompted Matt Wolf form The Art’s Desk to nickname it “Teeny Todd,” saying it was, “downsized to dazzling effect”.

The Stage’s Mark Stenton simply aid “the smallest and most viscerally intense.” Reviewing Bill Buckhurst’s razor sharp production in the Guardian, Lyn Garnder said of the leads, “Jeremy Secomb’s superbly brooding and cadaver-like Sweeney may give you a very close shave. Siobhan McCarthy is a real treat as Mrs Lovett, self-deceiving and sad as well as comically monstrous”.

Duncan Smith, Ian Mowat, Kiara Jay, Nadim Naaman, Joseph Taylor and Zoe Doano make up the cast on which Hutchings commented, “Theres’ great work throughout the cast of eight… the quality of performances – and especially the voices – is remarkably high.”

I caught up with Jeremy and Siobhan after Saturday’s performance where they signed this sketch.

Here is the tale (and sketch) of Sweeney Todd…. with Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel

Sweeney Todd Emma Thompson Bryn Terfel

Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are two of the best entertainers in the business and quite simply two of the nicest. Both had signed separate sketches as the leads in last years semi-staged version of Stephen Sondheim’s most gruesome musical SWEENEY TODD:THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET at New York’s Lincoln Center. A reprisal of that production for a two-week run at the London Coliseum this month gave me an  opportunity to draw them together and get both to sign it.

It was Emma’s return to the West End after a 26 year absence and officially billed as ‘concert staging’ with a full orchestra as the centre piece, but director Lonny Price serves up a few surprises. Both productions received rave reviews.

The Telegraph’s Rupert Christiansen summed up the sentiments. ‘Terfel’s Demon Barber …continues to command the role with a laconic intensity which makes Todd’s monomania all the more mesmerising …singing with steely restraint and a welcome lack of rasp or rant he plays a Byronic wanderer with a tormented inner life. An even bigger pleasure is provided by Emma Thompson…she makes a terrific Mrs Lovett, hitting just the right balance between endearing naiveté and ruthless amorality, as well as singing meticulously.”

As you can imagine having such stellar cast members attracts a lot of interest as the large numbers of fans gathering at the stage door testified. I decided to wander around to the front and try my luck and struct the jackpot. Emma, Bryn,Lonny and the cast were heading up St Martin’s Lane for a well-deserved supper. With some trepidation, I interrupted their progress with my graph request. Playing two of the nastiest stage characters had not tarnished  their ‘nicest people in show business ‘ tag and they happily signed.

Drawing: Emma Thompson as Mrs Lovett in Sweeney Todd

emma thompson sweeney

Emma Thompson returned to musical theatre after a 30 year break to make her New York stage debut in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to critical acclaim alongside Bryn Terfel as the serial-killing shaver. She last appeared on the boards in London in 1989 in Look Back in Anger. With her then husband Kenneth Branagh and in the musical Me and My Girl with Robert Lindsay in 1985.

For five performances she played Mrs Lovett, London’s worst pie maker in the concert production of the Sondheim’s classic, seminal musical at the Avery Fisher Hall at the Lincoln Centre for the Performing Arts in the Big Apple. Backed by the New York Philharmonic Emma wowed the critics last month, one saying she, “not only held her own against more experienced vocalists, but wound up running off with the show”.

I quickly drew this minimal line drawing when I found out she would be attending the Empire Awards at the end of March, where she was nominated for Saving Mr Banks. Like the trooper she is, Emma signed for everyone, including my sketch, “Oh Sweeney,” she smiled, “I hope you win,” I said. “So do I,” she replied – and she did.

Drawing: Bryn Terfel in Sweeney Todd

Sweeney Todd NY

Legendary Welsh bass-baritone Bryn Terfel was born Bryn Terfel Jones, but there was already another Welsh baritone named Bryn Jones, so chose Bryn Terfel as his professional moniker. Well, that’s sorted and he signed that name on my sketch of him as the title character in the concert performance of Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Sonheim’s musical thriller was staged at the Avery Fisher Theater, Lincoln Centre in New York last month (March 2014) with Emma Thompson returning to musical theatre as Mrs Lovett.

Bryn signed the drawing at the Royal Opera House stage door before his final performance as Mephistopheles in David McVicar’s Faust.

Drawing: Imelda Staunton and Michael Ball in Sweeney Todd

Staunton+Ball001

Imelda Staunton and Michael Ball won every major award in the acclaimed revival of Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd at London’s Adelphi Theatre, including the Olivier for Best Actress and Actor in a musical respectively. They signed this sketch at the theatre for me in May 2012.