Drawing: F Murray Abraham in The Mentor

Oscar winner F Murray Abraham returned to the London stage after a 21 year absence in THE MENTOR at the Vaudeville Theatre in June. Written by the German novelist Daniel Kehlmann and translated by Christopher Hampton, F Murray plays a tetchy older author clashing with a younger dramatist in a compelling and humorous study of creative anxiety.

As usual F Murray was generous with his time at the stage door and signed this drawing for me, before the play finished its run last week.

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Drawing: Dead Funny

dead-funny

“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.

Drawing: Hand to God

Hand to God

Described as Sesame Street meets The Exorcist, the irreverent puppet comedy HAND OF GOD took Broadway by storm last year, earning five Tony Nominations, including Best New Play. Robert Askin’s irreligious, satanic hand puppet hit has now transferred to the West End and possessed the Vaudeville Theatre. The London website sums up the plot. One dead father. One messed up family. One girl who wants help. One school bully who always gets his own way. One out of control hand puppet. Recently widowed Margery (Janie Dee) with a penchant for rough sex is encouraged by the randy minister Pastor Greg (Neil Pearson) to run a Christian puppetry workshop-The Christketeers – to spread the gospel in Cypress,Texas. It’s members of which include her son Jason (Harry Melling), the strange girl next door, Jessica (Jemima Rooper) who Jason has a crush on and neighbourhood troublemaker Timmy (Kevin Mains). Enter Tyrone, Jason’s devil-doll that acquires a separate identity turning into a foul-mouthed, unruly sock puppet who believes he’s Satan and takes possession of Jason’s left hand.

“You want the Devil? I’ll give you The Devil”, as his polycotton head spins 360 degrees.

As you could imagine, an interesting collection of characters to meet at the stage door to get my sketch signed. The hand of God had a bit to do with it. This is the second drawing I did. The first succumbed to the elements. A week back,as I was sheltering under some historical edifice and sorting sketches for the impending stalk, a gust of wind transported a few of them into the only muddy puddle within London’s Square Mile. HAND TO GOD was one of them. This replacement was subjected to a few sprinkles on Saturday, as I waited at the Vaudeville. Thankfully the cast were much nicer than the weather and nothing like their stage personae. Harry even left Tyrone in the dressing room and signed with his non-possessed hand. God knows what Tyrone would do with a sharpie!

Drawing: Antony Sher and Tara Fitzgerald in Broken Glass

Broken Glass

“Arthur Miller’s 1994 play towers over the dismal lowlands of current West End theatre like a majestic mountain peak.” wrote The Guardian’s Michael Billington in his five-star review of Broken Glass. Pretty impressive stuff from one of Britain’s leading critics.

The play focuses on Phillip and Sylvia Gellburg, a Jewish couple living in 1938 New York whose lives are affected by the anti-Semitic events of Kristallnacht (The night of Broken Glass) in Nazi Germany. Sylvia becomes paralysed from the waist down, a condition her doctor believes is psychosomatic and treats it as such. But what was the cause and who is the real cripple?

Originally staged in London at the National in 1994, this revival began at the Tricycle Theatre, a small fringe venue in Kilburn in late 2010. It returned for a month run in August the following year before transferring to the Vaudeville Theatre in the West End in September for a four month season. An excellent cast was headed by Antony Sher and Tara Fitzgerald in the lead roles. “Sher gives a superb performance of crippling anxiety…Fitzgerald brings a potent mixture of warmth,sensuality and grief,” wrote Charles Spencer of their performances in the Daily Telegraph. Both signed my sketch in person on a chilly winter’s evening at the stage door.

Drawing: Michele Dotrice in The Importance of Being Earnest

michele dotrice

I had the good fortune to walk on the (Oscar) Wilde side on Saturday after detouring from The Elephant Man across to Covent Garden to the Vaudeville Theatre’s stage door on my post-matinee meandering, where The Importance of Being Earnest is currently playing. I was after a romantic, repressed spinster in love with a village preacher – Miss Laetitia Prism…well not the character, but the actress playing  Mr. W’s parody for ‘a woman with a past’, the delightful Michele Dotrice. As Alexandra Coghlan wrote in The Arts Desk, “The unexpected heroes of the night are Michele Dotrice and Richard O’Callaghan as ageing lovers Miss Prism and Dr Chasuble. Quivering with girlish passion, Dotrice balances comedy with a startling pathos in her ‘female of repellent aspect’.”

Michele has a long and distinguished stage career, joining the Royal Shakespeare Company at the age of sixteen, but she is probably known more to global audiences as Betty,the long-suffering wife of ‘Oh Frank!’ Spencer (Michael Crawford) in the BBC series Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em. Forty years on the show still attracts tens of thousands of hits each day on YouTube.

Michele left her character on the stage and slipped out the door to have a bite to eat before going back for a sold-out evening performance. With a line from Miss Prism’s dialogue in mind, “I am not in favour of this modern mania for turning bad people into good people at a moments notice”, I disrupted her journey and asked if she could sign my sketch, which she did ‘with pleasure’ and my trusty black Pentel fine point pen. She must have had that same line in her mind, using the ‘good’ word, for the drawing, not necessarily the drawer.

 

Drawing: David Suchet as Lady Bracknell

David Suchet

One of Britain’s most revered actors plays one of theatre’s most iconic roles with David Suchet starring as Lady bracknell in Oscar Wild’s timeless and popular comedy of errors THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST.

After a short UK tour the production, directed by Adrian Noble settled in to the Vaudeville Theatre in London’s West End late last month for a five-month residency.

While known for his TV roles, especially as Agatha Christie’s fastidious detective Hercule Poirot, he is no stranger to treading the boards and has been nominated for no less than seven prestigious Olivier Awards and a Tony for his Broadway portrayal of Salieri in AMADEUS.

The man most famed for his pencil moustache and distinctly male attire is now decked out as a very Victorian lady. The formidable, biting character of Lady Augusta Bracknell represents Wilde’s opinion on Victorian upper-class negativity-conservative, repressive, powerful and arrogant. Famous ‘Lady Bracknells’ have included Dame Judi Dench and Penelope Keith, but in the past few years the role has also been played by men. Geoffrey Rush in Australia and Brian Bedford in Stratford, Ontario and Broadway. “I’m trying to become the best woman I can”, said David in a recent interview, although “the character almost defies gender really”.

The Guardian critic Michael Billington called David’s performance “majestically funny” and said “As Lady Bracknell, Suchet does not so much enter a room as occupy it totally”.

There’s a large poster of David as Lady B outside the Vaudeville’s stage door, where many gather after each show. I joined them after last Saturday’s evening performance. It’s on a busy thoroughfare with lots of traffic-vechicles and pedestrians. Many passing by would comment on the poster, ‘oh there’s what’s his face…Poirot!” He’s still recognisable even in a drag. David is the nicest man (and woman) you could ever wish to meet. He doesn’t come to the stage door, but remains in the foyer area and you are invited in to meet him, take selfies, get sigs and have a brief chat. He loved this sketch and as usual was more than happy to sign it.

Drawing: Jim Dale

Jim Dale

English actor, lyricist, singer and comedian James Smith, better known as Jim Dale is currently playing to packed houses in Just Jim Dale.

Known for his appearance in eleven Carry On films, the 79 year old returned to the London stage this month for his one man (and a pianist, Mark York) show that runs until 20 June. The Guardian’s Michael Billington summarises “the unfairly talented actor recalls a career that has taken him from Olivier’s National to British film comedies and Broadway in this exuberant solo show”.

Jim has received two Grammy Awards for narrating the Harry Potter audiobook series. He was the lyricist for the film theme Georgy Girl, which was nominated for an Academy Award in 1966. The song was performed by The Seekers and reached number 2 in the US Billboard Hot 100 chart, selling over seven million records.

On the stage he has been nominated for five Tony Awards, winning one for Barnum in 1980. He has also won four Drama Desk awards. In 1970 Sir Laurence Olivier invited Jim to join the National Theatre Company, based at the Old Vic.

The very affable entertainer met fans at The Vaudeville stage door after his matinée performance, including yours truly with this simple sketch. “All your own work?” he asked, “yes, like you,” I replied, as he wrote a very nice big siggy and dedication.

Sketch: Uncle Vanya with Anna Friel and Ken Stott

uncle vanya

Lindsay Posner’s wonderful revival of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya played London’s Vaudeville Theatre during the winter of 2012/2013.

My favourite critic, The Telegraph’s Tim Walker, gave it five stars in what he called, “a joyfully depressing revival… If you are into depressing plays, this production is, paradoxically, an unalloyed joy.”

The prolific Russian playwright’s classic tragi-comedy was adapted by Oscar winning Portuguese British writer Christoper Hampton and freatured Ken Stott and Anna Friel in the lead roles admirably supported by Samuel West, Laura Carmichael and Paul Freeman.

The date was the twelfth of December 2012, or in numerical formation 12/12/12 . One would have to do something special to mark the occasion, so one decided to try and get 12 theatre sketches signed on that auspicious day. That plan was quickly downsized due to the logistical barriers relating to the timing of entrances and exits at the various theatres. I ended up getting two, but they were good ones. … so thanks to Ken and Anna for marking this special day.

Sketch: Jenna Russell, Samantha Spiro and Tamzin Outhwaite in Di and Viv and Rose at the Vaudeville Theatre

di and viv and rose

Amelia Bullmore’s hilarious and heartwarming comedy about life’s impact on friendship Di and Viv and Rose finally makes its West End debut at the Vaudeville Theatre for a limited season. It premiered at Hampstead Downstairs in 2011 where it was a sell out success with an in-house transfer to Hampstead’s Main Stage in 2013, also enjoying a sell out run.

Original cast member Tamzin Outhwaite (Di) is joined by Samantha Spiro (Viv) and Jenna Russell (Rose) in this story of female friendship across 27 years, following them from initial bonding as University undergraduates in 1983, through life’s changes, crises and tragedies.

Receiving an average of four stars by the London critics, Di and Viv and Rose continues at the Vaudeville until 14 March.

Drawing: Fiona Button and Elliot Cowan in An Ideal Husband at the Vaudeville Theatre

cowan:button

Lindsay Posner’s production of Oscar Wilde’s An Ideal Husband, a classic comedy of political blackmail and corruption played London’s Vaudeville Theatre during the festive season of 2010.

Wilde gave the funniest lines to Lord Arthur Goring. SOme have suggested that the character with his similar wit and fashion to be based on the playwright himself. The ‘dandy’ was portrayed by Elliot Cowan, with his fancy threads and wayward habits, which critics agreed made “a splendidly lived in hero”.

He is engaged to Miss Mabel Chiltern, who, at half his age, is play by Fiona Button, “…whose silken repartee flowed as elegantly as her skirts”.

Her line “An ideal husband! Oh, I don’t think I should like that,” sums up her innocence. Both Fiona and Elliot signed this black biro sketch amongst the snow flurries at the uncovered Vaudeville stage door.