Drawing: Jeremy Irvine in Buried Child

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Six years ago British actor Jeremy Irvine was playing a tree in David Greig’s RSC production of DUNSINANE at Hampstead theatre, before he was plucked from ‘the forest of obscurity’ to play the lead role in Steven Spielberg’s big-screen adaption of the epic WAR HORSE.

Jeremy was about to give up acting, finding work was difficult and a career change was on the cards. He had never been in a film before, but learnt to ride, gained 14lb of muscle and learnt the Devonshire accent for two months of auditions. The legendary director wanted a newcomer to play the role of Albert. “I saw hundreds of actors, but no one had the heart, the spirit and the communication skills that Jeremy had,” he said.

Late last year he returned to the London boards as Vince in Sam Shepard’s American gothic play BURIED CHILD at the Trafalgar Studios, alongside Ed Harris and Amy Madigan. I caught up with him in after a Saturday evening performance in December and he signed my drawing for me.

 

Harriet Thorpe in Les Miserables and Wicked

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British actress Harriet Thorpe has played two of  the West End’s most memorable, musical, Madames –  Madame Thenardier in LES MISERABLES at the Palace Theatre in 1996 and Madame Morrible in WICKED at the Apollo Victoria in 2008, 2010 and again in 2013. She was recently performing ‘Sir’s’ long-suffering wife in THE DRESSER at the Duke of York’s where she signed my ‘Madames’ drawing.

Drawing: Kate O’Flynn in The Glass Menagerie

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British award-winning actress Kate O’Flynn returns to the London stage in John Tiffany’s  elegant production of Tennessee Williams’s 1944 autobiographical breakthrough play,  THE GLASS MENAGERIE at the Duke of York’s theatre this month. It transfers from a sell-out run at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Kate plays Laura Wingfield, the frail, damaged daughter of  the bruised and brittle Southern matriarch Amanda, played by the formidable Broadway great Cherry Jones. Kate’s entrance through the middle of a sofa has been described as ‘unforgettable’ like the rest of her performance.

She signed my sketch on her way to the theatre for last Saturday’s matinee.

Drawing: Kirsten Hazel Smith in The Mousetrap

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English actress Kirsten Hazel Smith joined this years cast for the 65th year of Agatha Christie’s THE MOUSETRAP, the world’s longest running play. At London’s St Martin’s Theatre. Kirsten plays Mollie Ralston, the proprietor of Monkswell Manor, the venue for the famous murder mystery. Kirsten’s previous stage appearances include THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre and A FLEA IN HER EAR at the Old Vic.She signed this drawing for me after last Saturdays matinee at the stage door.

Drawing: Hannah Lee in The Mousetrap

Hannah Lee drawing, The Mousetrap, West End

Hannah Lee is one of the new cast members for the 2016/17 season of Agatha Christie’s legendary whodunnit THE MOUSETRAP, as it continues its record-breaking run at St Martin’s Theatre. Hannah has played Miss Casewell since the cast change-over lat last year. A graduate of the Bristol Old Vic, after completing an Honours degree in English at Cambridge University, Hannah made her West End debut in the world’s longest running play and becomes one of the 450 actors and actresses who have appeared in the production since it opened at the Ambassadors Theatre on 25 November 1952. The cast have a very short time between the late Saturday matinee, and the evening performance, but Hannah did pop out for a break and I managed to catch her to sign this drawing.

Drawing: Ed Harris as Dodge in Buried Child

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This is the second drawing Ed Harris signed for me at the Trafalgar Studios where he appears as Dodge, the whiskey-soaked  patriarch of a dysfunctional family in Sam Shepard’s  American gothic play BURIED CHILD.  His performance has garnered excellent reviews with the guardian’s Michael Billington calling it, “utterly compelling.”

Ed signed my sketch just before Christmas and the production has been extended until early March this year.

Drawing: Lewis Griffiths and Katie Hartland in Dirty Dancing

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The UK and Ireland touring production of DIRTY DANCING had a December stopover at the Phoenix Theatre in the West End with Lewis Griffiths as Johnny Castle and Katie Hartland playing the role of  Frances ‘Baby’ Houseman. When it premiered in London at the Aldwych Theatre in 2006 the stage adaption of the hit 1987 film was the highest pre-sell in London’s history before a two year tour then returning to the Piccadilly Theatre in 2013 for another twelve months.

Lewis is no stranger to major musical productions with roles in PRISCILLA QUEEN OF THE DESERT, LEGALLY BLONDE, GHOST and JERSEY BOYS, but this is Katie’s professional musical theatre debut after recently graduating from the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama.

I left this drawing at the theatre just before Christmas and it arrived back signed and dedicated last week.

Drawing: Reece Shearsmith in The Dresser

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Ken Stott and Reece Shearsmith has been gathering rave reviews for their performances as Sir and Norman respectively in Sean Foley’s excellent revival of  Ronald Harwood’s classic play THE DRESSER, which ends its run at London’s Duke of York’s theatre next week. I drew a sketch of them together and  also individual  character drawings which they both signed at the stage door. This  is Reece in a ‘Norman’ montage  as the officious gate-keeper to Sir’s lair.

In his review, The Telegraph’s Dominic Cavendish called Reece’s performance as a ‘revelation’ and said, “There’s simply not a line mistimed, a movement misjudged and the particular triumph is that the 47-year-old comic actor takes us from entertaining,surface-polished camp mannerism, lots of limp wrists and arch, waspish asides, to a placed psychological perturbation, no less harrowing  or stirring than the madness that afflicts his employer.”

Drawing: Mark Lockyer in Living With The Lights On

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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: Dead Funny

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“Painfully funny and funnily painful comedy,” said The Times about DEAD FUNNY, Terry Johnson’s homage to the golden age of British TV comedy. I was lucky enough to see the original production when it transferred from Hampstead to the Vaudeville Theatre in London’s West End in 1994, featuring Zoe Wanamaker and David Haig.

It returned to the same theatre this Autumn, again directed by the writer for a limited run until next February. Lead by Katherine Parkinson as Eleanor, the frustrated wife in a flatlining marriage who is desperate for a baby with her pompous, intimancy-phobic husband Richard, played by Rufus Jones. He gets his jollies chairing the Dead Funny Society, a group of nerdy, emotionally deficient comedy aficionados – Ralf Little (Nick), Steve Pemberton (Brian) and Emily Berrington (Lisa), who meet up in April 1992 when two of Britain’s cherished funnymen Benny Hill and Frankie Howard copped it on consecutive days to not only mourn, but celebrate their contribution to hilarity and laughter.

In the end it’s Eleanor who provides the final irony in the play, wrote Guardian critic Michael Billington, “even though she despises the Dead Funny Society, she is the only one with a sense of humour.

“Johnson’s classic brings laughs with a lump in the throat. Comedy may have changed radically since Johnson wrote the play, but it still holds a disturbing mirror up to all those of us who worship at the shrine of dead comics,” he concluded.

I managed get my montage signed by all five ‘Live Funny’ actors amongst the festive rush at the Vaudeville stage door over the past week.