Drawing: Wendell Pierce in Death of a Salesman

Autographed drawing of Wendell Pierce in Death of a Salesman at The Young Vic Theatre

With over 30 films, 50 TV shows and dozens of theatre productions to his name, distinguished American actor Wendell Pierce makes his London stage debut as the tragic anti-hero Willy Loman in the reimagined revival of Arthur Miller’s 1949 Pulitzer Prize-winning masterwork DEATH OF A SALESMAN at the Young Vic, co-directed by Marianne Elliot and her long-term associate Miranda Cromwell.

It’s the story of an ageing salesman, who has invested so much time in the American dream he regards failure as a mortal sin. The play addresses the loss of identity and a man’s inability to accept changes within himself and society. To freshen the notion of the American dream as a nightmare and that much further away, the lower middle class Loman family are African-American, living a precarious existence in 1940’s Brooklyn. “We’re not changing a word (of the text) but it is amazing how you hear it differently,” said Marianne.

The New Orleans-born and bred Wendell, who plays Willy opposite the magnificent Sharon D. Clarke said it was ‘a honour and a milestone’. In his interview with Metro he commented, “This is not ‘colour blind’ casting, but ‘very specific casting’, that heightens the sense of the obstacles that are placed in front of Willy, his wife Linda and his sons Biff and Happy. Particular moments sting in new ways.”

It’s not the first staging of the play to shift ethnicity. Charles S. Dutton played Willy in 2009 at Yale Repertory and Don Warrington in the Manchester production last year. TimeOut’s Andrzej Lukowski writes, “This brilliantly reimagined take on the Arthur Miller classic is powered by a phenomenal black-led cast…that unquestionably finds new depths to the play.” In his Guardian review, Michael Billington said, “We’ve seen many good productions of DEATH OF A SALESMAN over the years, this one, mixing the socially specific and the dreamily phantasmagoric depicts the duality at the heart of Miller’s memory-play with exceptional clarity,” The sold-out production has been extended by two weeks.

Wendell will be familiar to screen viewers as the high-powered attorney Robert Zane in SUITS, detective Bunk Moreland in THE WIRE and trombonist Antoine Batiste in TREME on television and in films such as MALCOLM X and SELMA. He also produced the Broadway production of CLYBOURNE PARK which collected four Tony nominations, winning Best New Play.

Wendell signed this rehearsal sketch when he arrived for a Saturday matinee at the Young Vic a couple of weeks ago.

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Drawing: Colm Meaney in Cat On A Hot Tin Roof

Dublin-born and Golden Globe nominated actor Colm Meaney has returned to the West End boards after a ten-year absence, playing plantation patriarch Big Daddy in Tennessee Williams’s Pulitzer Prize winning drama CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF. The Young Vic production directed by Benedict Andrews is currently playing the Apollo until October. Colm, known to Trekkies as Chief Petty Officer Miles O’Brien in STAT TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION and DEEP SPACE NINE.

Colm’s last London stage appearance was in Eugene O’Neill’s A MOON FOR THE MISBEGOTTEN opposite Kevin Spacey at The Old Vic in the Autumn of 2006. He signed this sketch of him as Big Daddy a few weeks ago at the stage door before a Saturday matinee.

Drawing: Amy Griffiths as Florabel Leigh

amy-griffiths

Hart and Kaufman’s great old-fashioned Broadway comedy hit ONCE IN A LIFETIME was revived at London’s Young Vic theatre over the festive season. Satirising the entertainment world at the arrival of ‘talking pictures’, the story follows three enterprising New Yorkers as they head west to cash in after the first sound film became a smash hit, setting up an elocution studio in Tinseltown.

Amy Griffiths plays Florabel Leigh, a somewhat famous silent film star who finds that the switch to sound puts her at a disadvantage because of her accent, so she needs to enrol in elocution lessons to work in the talkies. Misadventures abound. Amy signed my Florabel sketch after the final matinee in January.

Drawing: Mark Lockyer in Living With The Lights On

mark-lockyer

In 1995 actor Mark Lockyer had a very public meltdown while playing Mercutio in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of ROMEO AND JULIET in Stratford. His erratic behaviour including a fumbled Queen Mab speech and seizing a saxophone from a musician mid-performance and giving a Courtney Pine impersonation and being furious afterwards when an enraged stage manager thought it was Ackerman Bilk was a result of ‘meeting the devil on the banks of the Avon.’

His undiagnosed bipolar disorder lead to imprisonment, arson and eventually treatment in a mental hospital. Now twenty years later, his gripping solo show LIVING WITH THE LIGHTS ON  is a ‘brutally funny account of mental illness’.

“Lockyer has one hell of a story and he tells it rivetingly well,” wrote Dominic Maxwell in The Times. I meet Mark after his matinee performance last Friday at London’s Young Vic Theatre and he signed my drawing with a solitary ‘M’, saying “that’s how I sign my name,” which I replied was perfectly fine.

Drawing: Aoife Duffin in A Girl Is A Half-formed Thing

Aoife Duffin

Annie Ryan’s startling stage adaption of Eimear McBride’s bruising novel A GIRL IS A HALF-FORMED THING arrived at London’s Young Vic last week amid must-see buzz. Premiering at the Dublin Theatre Festival in 2014, the unflinching portrait of one girl’s turbulent journey into the adult world was the sellout sensation at the Edinburgh Fringe and is now on a UK and US tour. Aoife Duffin, who plays the ‘girl’, is probably more widely known for her comedic role as Trisha in Chris O’Dowd’s TV sitcom MOONE BOY, has garnered a clutch of acting awards for the acclaimed solo show.

The Guardian, among other mainstream papers gave it 5 stars with The Financial Times calling her 95 minutes on stage “a remarkable performance.”  In a relentless monologue about a young woman, brutalised in puritanical Ireland as she ‘people’s the stage with characters encountered during her short life.’

It’s a thriving busy place in the Young Vic, especially on a Friday, so I didn’t notice Aoife leave after her performance until she was outside the venue and heading past the window. I did my bit for method acting and chased her down the street, adding to her traumatised characterisation experience, but she was happy to sign this montage sketch for me.

Drawing: Susannah Fielding in Bull at the Young Vic

Susannah Fielding - Bull

The “consistently brilliant” Susannah Fielding was joined by Nigel Lindsay, Max Bennett and Marc Wootton in Clare Lizzimore’s “stunningly nasty production” (TimeOut) of Mike Barlett’s BULL when it was restaged at London’s Young Vic’s intimate Maria space over the Christmas season. She played the icy, sleek alpha female Isobel, who uses her manipulative skills to survive corporate downsizing when three warring work colleagues fight for the two remaining positions in what critic Sophia Chetin-Leuner called “The performative splendour of being cruel.”

Winner of the 2014 Charleson Award for her memorable portrayal as Portia in Rupert Goold’s THE MERCHANT OF VENICE at the Almeida Theatre, Susannah’s star continued to shine. “The spoils go to Susannah Fielding, who gets to deliver the powerhouse speech that brings the play to its climax,” wrote Thomas Dearnley-Davison in Spindle Magazine.
Susannah signed this sketch of her in the role after surviving another session in the ‘bullring’ on the final Saturday.

Drawing: Romola Garai in Measure For Measure

Romola Garai

It’s become a tradition for my wife and I to celebrate our wedding anniversary by taking in a bit of Bard. This year we went to see Joe Hill-Gibbins radical version of Shakespeare’s ‘problematic play’ MEASURE FOR MEASURE at the Young Vic.

It featured Romola Garai as Isabella and opened with the cast emerging from a mass of inflatable sex dolls, not your typical interpretation of Will’s work. The Guardian’s Michael Billington described Romola’s performance as ‘astonishing’.

Her interesting name is the female version of Romulus the founder of Rome and Garai is Hungarian. She has three siblings called Ralph, Roxy and Rosie to complete the alliteration quartet. Interesting name and interesting person with a Master’s Degree in English and she plays the violin.

As a presenter of the Best Male Comedy Performance gong at the 2013 BAFTA TV Awards she prefaced the announcement of the winner by saying, “After the recent birth of my child, I had the misfortune of having 23 stitches in my vagina. So I didn’t think I would be laughing at anything for a long time. But tonight’s nominations have proved me wrong.”

I didn’t get this sketch of Romola as Isabella signed at the theatre because I missed her going out and asked the wrong person! Sometimes the understudies do look similar and I have had the odd identity crisis at stage doors, but the Young Vic have extended the similarities to members of the crew, who was very pleasant about my faux pas. I had no such difficulty at the BFI this week where she was participating in a Q&A after the screening of her latest TV feature CHURCHILL’S SECRET in which she play’s the iconic wartime leader’s nurse. It did help that I was able to differentiate between her and Sir Michael Gambon who plays Churchill.

Sketch: Michael Sheen as Hamlet

Michael Sheen

In May 2013 I posted a signed montage sketch of Michael Sheen as Hamlet, from the Young Vic winter 2011 production of the Bard’s number one play.

I had also drawn this biro portrait, which is actually one of my favourites, which Michael also signed.

Hamlet was directed by Ian Rickson and is set in the secure wing of a psychiatric hospital and features original music by PJ Harvey. The Telegraph declared Michael’s performance, “could be up there among the great Hamlets” and the Evening Standard said, “an audacious achievement that will live in the memory”.

He was really nice and took time to chat and ‘graph in The Cut Bar as he headed to the stage door for an evening performance. I was watching Stephen Frears’ The Queen the other night in which Michael stars as British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and remembered I had this other sketch.

So, here it is… after Royal decree.

Sketch: Eleanor Matsuura in Bull at The Young Vic

Eleanor MatsuuraTokyo-born and London raised actress Eleanor Matsuura is currently appearing as the determined Isobel in Clare Lizzimore’s riveting production of Mike Bartlett’s razor-sharp Bull at the Young Vic in London.

The play looks at the fine line between office politics and playground bullying as three employees fight to keep their jobs in a corporate wrestling ring.

It’s nasty, it’s brutish, it’s short – a 55 minute exercise that provides catharsis for theatregoers who want to purge the day’s tensions by watching a metaphoric version of what may be happening during regular office hours.

I drew this montage of Eleanor including her role in Enron at the Noel Coward Theatre, which she signed for me after two rounds in the ‘ring’ (a matinee and evening performance) on Wednesday.

Drawing: Charlotte Lucas, Jessica Raine and Kobna Holdbrook-Smith in The Changeling at The Young Vic Theatre

The Changeling1

 

Jessica Raine and Charlotte Lucas featured in the sell out hit The Changeling at London’s Young Vic, helmed by the Theatres’ Deputy Artistic Director Joe Hill-Gibbings in early 2012. Described as a ‘darkly comic tale of sex, love and panic’ this was a modern-dress revival of Thomas Middleton and William Rowley’s 1622 classic which was originally set in Renaissance Spain. One reviewer called it “The Changeling supercharged – urgent, sexy and messy.”

It’s focus is the doomed romance between Alsemero, a nobleman and Beatrice-Joanna’s impending marriage to another man, until she finds a solution… which has deadly consequences. Jessica described her character in three words “clever, lusty and murderous”.

Her maid, Diaphanta (Charlotte) performs the bedroom trick, and stands in for Beatrice (Jessica) in a highly lubricious and well-lubricated spectacle in which a blindfolded Kobna Holdbrook-Smith and Charlotte smear themselves with jelly!