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.

Advertisements

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.

Drawing: The End of Longing

The End of Longing

Matthew Perry’s debut play as a writer, the bittersweet dark comedy, THE END OF LONGING premiered at London’s The Playhouse Theatre last month. Directed by Lindsay Posner, Matthew plays Jack, an alcoholic who falls for the sassy $2,500-an-hour hooker Stephanie (Jennifer Mudge). Together with the neurotic Stevie (Cristina Cole) and thick-but-kindly Joseph (Lloyd Owen) the quartet of lost souls, all approaching their forties, spent a raunchy night in a downtown LA bar searching for meaning.

I managed to get Matthew to sign my sketch last Saturday evening, but it was amongst a huge throng of fans, so I couldn’t get the other three cast members. It was a lot easier last night when only a handful of people were at the stage door as they arrived for the Friday night’s performance.

David Bedella, Ben Forster and Haley Flaherty inThe Rocky Horror Show

Rocky Horror

“Let’s do the Time Warp again!”

The legendary Rocky Horror Show returned to the West End for a short season at the Playhouse Theatre which ends today, ahead of a UK Tour. Creator Richard O’Brien also returned, this time as the Narrator. A firm favourite with theatre-goers, the Christopher Luscombe directed production was extended by an extra week due to demand. Included in the run was a one-off  charity performance with special guests, including Stephen Fry and Emma Brunton in aid of Amnesty International,broadcast live throughout the UK and Europe. Olivier Award winner David Bedella also returned as the lead Frank’n’ Furter after performing in various Rocky productions between 2006 to 2010. He is joined by Ben Forster as Brad, who played the role in the 40th Anniversary UK Tour and Haley Flaherty completes the many happy returns as Janet, after playing her in Singapore, NZ and the UK Tours. All three will not be part of the upcoming British tour.

The show does attract a loyal and dedicated fan-base, who usually gather at the stage door in a variety of cross-dressing guises and nominal drapery in homage to the production. I spent a little bit of time amongst them over the fortnight, securing graphs on my sketches.  At times, more conservative attire made me the oddball and the only one with drawings to sign, even odder. But that’s what the show’s all about-accepting people’s differences and it certainly makes a difference to your day when you harvest a full set of signed sketches.

Drawing: Richard O’Brien in The Rocky Horror Show

richard o brien

The cult classic The Rocky Horror Show returned to the West End this week for a limited, and already extended season at the Playhouse Theatre before embarking on a UK tour.

Also returning is the shows creator. Richard O’Brien, this time as the Narrator. When it premiered in the 63-seat upstairs ‘working space’ at the Royal Court Theatre in London’s Sloane Square in June 1973, Richard played Riff Raff, handyman to Tom Curry’s mad transvestite scientist,  Frank N Furter. Both reprised their roles for the 1975 film adaption, The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Riff Raff is a parody of Frankenstein’s servant Igor.

Considered ahead of its time in terms of attitudes towards gender, Richard is proud that it “made the climate for people who feel marginalised and lost in their journey as far as gender is concerned.” in a recent interview, discussing his ‘gender spectrum’ theory, he said, ‘It’s my belief that we are on a continuum between male and female. There are people who are hardline male and there are people who are hardlined female, but most of us are on the continuum. I think of myself  70% male and 30% female.”

I was pleased to meet him (and 30% her) at the Playhouse stage door before Saturday’s first of two evening performances. Extremely genial and accommodating with the die-hard fans and usual riff raff graphers alike. Like me has duel British-New Zealand nationality, so our converstion was more the citizenship spectrum than gender as he signed my drawing.

Drawing: Bonnie Langford as The Lady of the Lake in Monty Python’s Spamalot

bonnie langford

I kept meaning to catch up with musical theatre icon Bonnie Langford and finally I did so over the weekend after a matinée performance of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels at London’s Savoy Theatre.

Bonnie plays the glamorous divorcée Muriel Enbanks and signed this sketch of her as the Lady of the Lake from Spamalot.

Ever since winning the talent show Opportunity Knocks as a six year old and taking to the stage a year later in Gone With The Wind, Bonnie has been a crowd favourite. She has played all the big shows – Cats, Me and My Girl and the role of Roxy Hart in Chicago on both the West End and Broadway stages.

She began playing The Lady of the Lake in the UK tour in early 2012 before a three month run at the Harold Pinter Theatre (formerly The Comedy Theatre) later in 2012, then two stints at the Playhouse Theatre in May-November 2013 and February-March 2014.