Drawing: Ben Turner and John Pfumojena in The Jungle

Autographed drawing of Ben Turner in The Jungle at the Playhouse Theatre on London's West End

Joe Murphy and Joe Robertson’s remarkable and courageous play, THE JUNGLE, regarded as one of most vital and important productions to be staged over the past year, has just completed its hugely successful run at London’s Playhouse Theatre, after an initial a sell-out season at the Young Vic and a cluster of five-star reviews. Next month it opens at St Anne’s Warehouse in New York.

THE JUNGLE follows the hopes and despair of the inhabitants of Europe’s largest unofficial refugee camp the Calais Jungle on the northern coast of France, which became the home for more than 10,000 people in 2015. The majority of the original 18 strong cast will be transferring including Ben Turner and John Pfumojena. British-Iranian actor Ben, best known to TV viewers as the nurse Jay Faldren in BBC’s CASULTY and Louis XV in DOCTOR WHO plays the proud but cranky chef Salar who runs the camps thriving Afghan cafe and distrusts the British.

“Ben Turner stands out as Salar, the owner of the Jungle’s main restaurant who fights deep-seated anger at the destruction of his native Afghanistan to become one of the camp’s leaders and peace-makers,” wrote Mark Ludmon in his British Theatre.com review.

Zimbabwean-born, London-based actor and musician John Pfumojena plays teenager Okot from Darfur in Western Sudan with “astonishing intensity of pain” according to the Independent’s Paul Taylor. Sarah Compton’s review for WhatsOnStage said that John provides “the play’s single most moving scene when he explains how his journey has changed him, obliterating the person he was even though he is still only 17.” John also composed the music for the production which The Stage’s JN Benjamin said “… is the beating heart of the show. John’s compositions unite audiences and actors through mellifluous harmonies.”

Both John and Ben signed their respective sketches on Saturday at the stage door, before the final matinee.

Autographed drawing of John Pfumojena in The Jungle at the Playhouse Theatre on London's West End

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Drawing: Rachel Redford in The Jungle

Autographed drawing of Rachel Redford in The Jungle at the Playhouse Theatre on London's West End

One of the rising stars of British theatre is Welsh-born RADA graduate Rachel Redford, who is currently one of the 18 characters, a blend of refugees and British volunteers in Joe Murphy and Joe Robertson’s THE JUNGLE at London’s Playhouse theatre. She was part of the original Young Vic cast that transferred to the West End back in June in the wake of five- star reviews.

THE JUNGLE, defined as a ‘vital drama’ by The Guardian, focuses on the hopeful, resilient residents of the Calais refugee camp in 2015. Rachel plays Beth, a young teacher, described as a ‘passionate bundle of outrage.’

In her Evening Standard review Fiona Mountford summed up the British volunteers involvement, as a “true Empire hangover… they want to improve order on this sea of human desperation but are hopelessly out of their depth.”

Rachel signed my sketch for me after a Saturday matinee performance a few weeks ago.

Drawing: Jo McInnes in The Jungle

Autographed drawing of Jo McInnes in The Jungle at the Playhouse Theatre on London's West End

Jo McInnes divides her time between acting and directing. She is currently appearing in the hugely acclaimed THE JUNGLE at the Playhouse theatre in London’s West End. Jo was a member of the original cast when the play premiered last year, with previews from 16 June (World Refugee Day) and transferred with the production across the river to its present venue. It is scheduled to cross a wider stretch of water and set up in New York later this year.

Set in Europe’s largest unofficial refugee camp, the Calais Jungle on the northern French coast, which became the home for more than 10,000 people in 2015, it immerses audiences in all the complexities and contradictions of a refugee camp.

In his Variety review, Matt Bateman wrote, “THE JUNGLE does everything theatre does best, and more.” Jo plays the pragmatic and jaded volunteer Paula, a ‘free swearing child protector… a caring, no-nonsense matriarch’

She signed my sketch of her in the role at the stage door last month.

Drawing: Dominic Rowan in The Jungle

Autographed drawing of Dominic Rowan in The Jungle at the Playhouse Theatre on London's West End

One of Britain’s leading stage actors, Dominic Rowan has added the critically acclaimed THE JUNGLE to his already extensive list of credits, which is matched by his TV work, including his role as CPS prosecutor Jacob Thorne in the ITV crime drama LAW AND ORDER: UK.

He joined the cast of THE JUNGLE, the immersive play about the now-bulldozed migrant camp in Calais, after its sell-out run at Young Vic over the winter, when the production transferred to The Playhouse Theatre in June. Dominic plays Derek, an idealistic, somewhat self-important seasoned charity worker. He will stay with the show after it completes its West End run next month and shifts camp stateside to New York.

Dominic has kindly signed a number of my sketches at various stage doors over the years. He did this ‘Derek’ drawing for me a few weeks ago as he arrived for a Saturday matinee.

Drawing: Ammar Haj Ahmad in The Jungle

Autographed drawing of Ammar Haj Ahmad in The Jungle at The Playhouse Theatre on London's West End

“It’s not about refugees, it’s about humans,” said Syrian actor Ammar Haj Ahmad in a recent interview about the theatrical phenomenon, THE JUNGLE in which he stars and leads a multinational, multiethnic cast, vividly recreating the life in the sprawling makeshift camp called ‘the jungle’ in Calais on France’s northern coast, where thousands gathered from all corners of the world to escape war and terror, hoping to cross the English Channel and build a new life.

Ammar plays Safi, the main spokesperson for the Jungle’s inhabitants, who also functions in the play as the guide and chronicler. In 2011, Ammar was a cast member in a production of the Arabian classic ONE THOUSAND AND ONE NIGHTS, which completed its global tour in Edinburgh. His visa ran out, but the crisis back in this homeland had escalated to the point where he felt he could not return. He contacted the British Home Office to apply for asylum and the 36 year-old has not returned to Syria since.

The Broadway-bound National Theatre and Young Vic co-production with the playwrighters Joe Murphy and Joe Robertson’s Good Chance Theatre premiered at the Young Vic last November. Directed by Stephen Daldry and Justin Martin, it transferred across the river to the Embankment’s Playhouse Theatre earlier this year where it resides until 3 November before crossing a bigger stretch of water to New York.

The sell-out production received a powerful reaction. Audiences and critics were blown away. The Telegraph’s Dominic Cavendish has called it “the most important play in the West End.” The immersive nature of the play, which transports everyone into the jungle itself is “an experience we do together- actors and audience,” said Ammar. “I am truly grateful to be part of theatre that makes a difference.”

I met Ammar at the stage door after a Saturday matinee a few weeks ago where he signed my sketch.

Drawing: Alex Lawther in The Jungle

Autographed drawing of Alex Lawther in The Jungle at the Playhouse Theatre on London's West End

“The most important play in the West End.” That’s the five-star verdict of critic Dominic Cavendish in his review of THE JUNGLE. “Astonishing. The West End just got a heart transplant,” he said in the Telegraph.

Originally commissioned by the National Theatre, THE JUNGLE is a series of vivid snapshots of life, loss, fear, community and hope in the sprawling refugee camp that existed for a year near Calais on the French northern coastline, known as ‘The Jungle’.

Written by Joe Murphy and Joe Robertson, who had first-hand experience of the camp, running a pop-up theatre called ‘Good Chance’ and co-directed by Stephen Daldry and Justin Martin, the production transferred from a sold-out run at the Young Vic last year, across the river to The Playhouse Theatre.

Veteran Guardian critic Michael Billington also gave the production five stars, calling it a “priceless piece of theatre… that moved to the West End with all its vital organs in tact.”

The immersive show has transformed the traditional venue. Audiences can either sit amongst the bustling Afghan Cafe in the stalls or watch from the ‘Cliffs of Dover’ seating in the dress circle. Regarded as one of Britain’s rising stars, twenty-three year old Alex Lawther plays Sam, a ‘brattish, but terrifyingly efficient’ Etonian posh boy. He describes the Jungle as “Glastonbury, without the toilets.”

Alex will be familiar to viewers of the Netflix series THE END OF THE F***ING WORLD and was the young Alan Thuring in 2014 Oscar-nominated film THE IMITATION GAME. I caught up with him to sign this sketch on his last day with the London production, arriving for Saturday’s matinee before he starts a new project. He will rejoin the cast when it transfers to New York later in the year.