Continuing my series of writer sketches is prolific English playwright Simon Stephens. After giving up school teaching, Simon’s theatre career started at the Royal Court Theatre in London where he taught the Young Writers’ Programme for many years. He is now its Associate Playwright as well as Artistic Associate at the Lyric Hammersmith and the inaugural Associate Playwright at the Steep Theatre Company in Chicago… just busy enough.
Winner of numerous accolades, his most notable is the Best New Play Olivier Award in 2006 for ON THE SHORE OF THE WIDE WORLD. Simon’s adaption of Mark Haddon’s novel THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME won the 2013 Best New Play Olivier, one of a record seven the production collected.
The highly acclaimed story surrounding the mystery of the death of a neighbour’s dog investigated by Christopher Boone who has an autistic spectrum condition. The play opened at the National Theatre in August 2012 before transferring to the Apollo in London’s West End the following year. The production halted when the theatre’s ceiling collapsed on 19 December and reopened next door at the Gielgud Theatre in July 2014, completing the run in June last year.
The Broadway production debuted in October 2014 at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre, winning the Best New Play Tony Award. I sent my sketch of Simon to his London agent and it quickly came back signed and dedicated.
Currently back on the London boards in Bryony Lavery’s psychological thriller FROZEN at the Theatre Royal Haymarket, Suranne Jones plays Nancy, a grieving mother who faces her child’s killer. It’s a performance that Michael Billington described as ‘riveting’ in his four-star review for The Guardian.
Suranne is no stranger to critical acclaim, mostly from her TV appearances. After her prominent role as Karen McDonald in the iconic British soap, CORONATION STREET (2000-2004), her breakthrough came as convicted killer Ruth Slater in the mini-series UNFORGIVEN in 2009, followed by five years as detective Rachel Bailey in SCOTT & BAILEY then GP Gemma Foster in DOCTOR FOSTER, which won her a TV BAFTA and two National Television Awards.
Her last two stage appearances received equal acclaim, playing single mum Sandra in the comedy BEAUTIFUL THING at the Arts Theatre in the West End and the epoch-hopping title role in Sarah Ruhl’s adaption of Virginia Woolf’s novel ORLANDO at Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre.
Arriving at the Theatre Royal stage door on a bitterly cold Saturday afternoon she happily stopped and chatted to the waiting few, commenting on the irony of the play’s title and the chilly climate and signing autographs, including this montage sketch.
The ‘colossus’ of British theatre, theatre, opera and film director Sir Peter Hall died this month. In their obituary, The Times wrote that he was “the most important figure in British theatre for half a century.”
Sir Peter ran the National theatre from 1973-1988 and founded the Royal Shakespearian Company in 1960. The National Theatre said that Sir Peter’s “influence on the artistic life of Britain in the 20th Century was unprecedented.
I had the pleasure of meeting Sir Peter on a few occasions at theatre press nights before he retired from public life in 2011. He was always a delight. In March 2010 he attended the opening night of PRIVATE LIVES at London’s Vaudeville Theatre, starring Kim Cattrall. After the show he went backstage and signed for me leaving via the stage door.
Since playing DOWNTON ABBEY’s Lady Edith for the last time in 2015, Southampton- born Laura Carmichael has been developing an impressive stage career. Last year she appeared in Jamie Lloyd’s THE MAIDS at the Trafalgar Studios and has returned to the intimate London venue this month in another one of his productions, the revival of Alexei Kaye Campbell’s 2009 spiky family drama APOLOGIA.
“However, it’s Carmichael who – released from the corsets of DOWNTON ABBEY – almost steals the show from Stockard Channing. She’s superb as American physiotherapist Trudy, turning uptick lilt of every nervous platitude into comedy gold”, wrote Tom Wicker in his The Stage review.
Laura signed my Trudi sketch at the stage door after last Saturday’s matinee performance.
Dutch songstress Willemijn Verkaik has played the central role of Elphaba in the Musical WICKED over 2,000 times in London, Europe and Broadway, which is more than anyone else and is the only person to have played the role in three different languages – English, Dutch and German. She made her West End debut at the Apollo Victoria in 2013, but for health reasons left the show eight months later, only to return in January this year as part of the show’s 10th Anniversary celebrations. Her final performance was on the 22nd of July. In an online poll of 16,000 voters she was chosen as the ‘Wicked Personality of the Year’. It took me a while, missing Willemijn on a few occasions at various venues, but I finally got my sketch signed prior to her departure at the Apollo.
Swansea native Des Barrit is known for his comedic stage performances such as Bottom, Falstaff, Toad and the Antipholus twins in A COMEDY OF ERRORS for which he won the Olivier in 1992. His latest West End outing is as Hugh, the gay best friend of Stockard Channing’s character Kristin in Jamie Lloyd’s revival of APOLOGIA at the Trafalgar Studios. Although a compelling and at times tense family drama, Des once again punctuates the pathos with humour and most of the funniest lines, “Kristin is to diplomacy what I am to heterosexuality,” to quote one example.
I drew this montage of Des, including his 2002 Olivier-nominated role as Falstaff in HENRY IV Parts 1 & 2 at the Theatre Royal Bath and W.H. Auden in the National’s A HABIT OF ART, which he signed after a Saturday evening performance I was lucky enough to see a couple of weeks ago.
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.
Enda Walsh’s two-hander debut play DISCO PIGS is currently enjoying its 20th Anniversary revival at London’s Trafalgar Studios 2, directed by John Haidas. HARRY POTTER’S Evanna Lynch joins Irish actor Colin Campbell as ‘Runt’ and ‘Pig’, two teenagers born at the same time, on the same day and in the same hospital, who have been inseparable until their 17th birthdays when their cocooned world is destined for a head-on crash with reality.
Review Hub scored it 4 stars under the banner ‘Pig’s Fly’. I meet both Evanna and Colin at the stage door last weekend and we’re more than happy to sign and dedicate my sketch. The production ends this weekend.
Stockard Channing has made a successful return to the London stage after a ten year absence in Jamie Lloyd’s revival of Alexi Kaye Campbell’s family drama APOLOGIA at the Trafalgar Studios. The 73 year-old Tony and Emmy award winning actress plays the celebrated art historian, activist and ‘monstrous matriarch’ Kristin Miller who is at odds with her two sons and their partners who gather to celebrate her birthday. Central to the story is the debate about ‘bad’ sixties mothers and their abandoned-feeling offspring which surfaces when her recent memoir that omits her sons becomes a touchy subject. Quite brilliant,” wrote Ann Treneman in her Times review, Dominic Cavendish headlined his Telegraph review with “Stockard Channing is a contemptuous treat,” and ” Stockard Channing is in top form,” said Tom Wicker in The Stage.
I was very fortunate to see the play thanks to the generosity of Nick, a fellow ‘grapher, who I met at the stage door as we waited to meet Stockard prior to last Saturday’s performance. He had a spare comp ticket, which he kindly offered me. She popped out after the matinee to sign for us including this drawing and was very chatty and complimentary. So I got to see her on and off the stage – bonus!
The Award-winning THE GIRLS has just finished its West End run at the Phoenix Theatre. Based on the 2007 hit film CALENDAR GIRLS, this musical stage adaption was written by Take That’s Gary Barlow and Tim Firth who also scripted the film’s original screenplay based on a true story of a group of spirited, middle aged Yorkshire housewives who strip for a calendar to raise money for a cancer charity. I left this montage sketch of the cast-Joanna Riding, Claire Moore, Claire Machin, Sophie-Louise Dann, Michele Dotrice and Debbie Chazen- at the stage door and it came back signed in the final week. A UK tour is planned for next year.