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.
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.
Twenty-three year old newcomer Elisabeth Hopper’s big breakthrough came with her role as Miranda the teenage castaway in Trevor Nunn‘s hit London production of Shakepeare’s last play The Tempest opposite one of her idols, Ralph Fiennes, as her father Prospero at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket in late 2011.
She made her stage debut earlier as a courtier in Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, also directed by Sir Trevor at the same theatre.
Only two years prior to that Elisabeth was studying English and Drama at Manchester University, and described working with Ralph as “one of the things that dreams are made of,” to echo a line from the play.
In her audition, she performed one of Juliet’s speeches from Romeo and Juliet which Sir Trevor said was “as stunningly original and unexpected as I have ever come across.”
The production caused a bit of a storm at the box office with £1million advance tickets sales due to Ralph’s headlining appearance. “The combination of Ralph and Sir Trevor is a magical recipe” said co-producer Arnold Crook.
And it was a bit of a stormy opening night when I contemplated getting this sketch of Elisabeth and Ralph signed at the stage door. The lack of cover and positioning of the exit in a cul-de-sac creates its own ‘weather vortex’.
The Times critic Libby Purves even referred to the seasonal squall as the “first equinoctial gales swept London – a classic Tempest on and off the stage”.
Not an environment conjusive to signing. I left the drawing at the stage door, which both them signed and returned to me.
Irish singer and actress Jessie Buckley made her Globe debut in April 2013, playing “a tomboyish” Miranda opposite Roger Allam‘s “delicatedly handled” Prospero in The Tempest. The Bard’s last great masterpiece with a modern twist.
Described as “an ambiguous but magical production of Shakespeare’s problem play”. The Stage reviewer Catherine Usher said Jessie’s “energetic, rebellious, vaguely feminist Miranda is very enjoyable.”
Jessie signed my sketch, which I left at The Globe and wrote me a lovely note, appreciating my support and the rendering.
Juliet Rylance and her father, Mark, graced the London stage boards at the same time in different theatres during 2010. Mark featured in David Hirson’s comedy La Bête at the Comedy Theatre, and Juliet was in The Bridge Project’s Shakespearean double bill, As You Like It / The Tempest over at the Old Vic.
Mark signed my sketch first on the 10th August 2010, and Juliet a week later.
My other Mark Rylance drawings can be found here, here and here.
2010 was the second year of Sam Mendes’ transatlantic Bridge Project featuring globally touring hybrid Anglo-American cast at the Old Vic Theatre. The Shakespearean comedy As You Like It ran in repertory with The Tempest. At first sight they may not appear obvious bedfellows, but both deal with exile, sibling hostility and a touching father-daughter relationship.
BAFTA and Tony winner Stephen Dillane, currently seen in the British hit TV series Game of Thrones portrayed Prospero, The Tempest’s main character and overthrown Duke of Milan turned sourcerer. American actor Ron Cephas Jones played the enigmatic half-human, half-beast Caliban – Prospero’s slave.
Time Out described his performance, “with his vulpine aspect, ascetic frame and rich, musical baritone, earns that hackneyed critical plaudit, “riveting.”
Both Stephen and Ron signed my drawings in August 2010 at the stage door.
Ralph Nathaniel Twisleton Wykenham Fiennes was only signing programmes and tickets at the stage door of the Royal Theatre Haymarket in London in August 2011. He was playing Prospero in Shakespeare’s The Tempest.
Although spelt ‘Ralph’ it is pronounced ‘Rafe’, so don’t ask ‘Ralph’ for a ‘graph or you may not get one! The theatre management were very strict about the signing policy, so I made do with my ticket and programme siggys. I did however, leave a drawing of Ralph as Prospero and Elisabeth Hooper as his daughter Miranda at the stage door, and it was returned, signed by both.
Later that year Ralph also made his film directional debut, with an adaption of the Bard’s tragedy Coriolanus, in which he also played the title role. It screened at the BFI London Film Festival in October that year. Ralph attended and was happy to sign and dedicate my sketch at the Odeon West End Theatre in Leicester Square. Coriolanus actually had its premiere at the Curzon Mayfair in early January 2012. Once again Ralph attended and this time signed a sketch I did some years earlier, when he was on Broadway in 2006, playing Frank Hardy in Faith Healer at the Booth Theater. I was, in fact, in New York during the play’s season, but couldn’t get a ticket. Anyway, he was once again obliging with his autograph and complimentary comments.
Roger Allam was the original Javert in the London production of Les Misérables – one of his many high profile parts in an illustrious theatrical career, which has included winning three Olivier Awards.
He signed this sketch at Shakespeare’s Globe in October 2010, playing the role of Falstaff in Henry IV Parts 1 and 2 for which he won the Olivier Award for Best Actor. He is currently back on stage at the Globe playing Prospero in The Tempest and on the telly as Magister Illyrio Mopatis in the popular Game of Thrones.