Drawing: Arabella Neale and Emily Plumtree in The Mousetrap

Autographed drawing of Arabella Neale in The Mousetrap at St Martin's Theatre on London's West EndAutographed drawing of Emily Plumbtree in The Mousetrap at St Martin's Theatre on London's West End

Continuing my recent ritual of rendering the roles of Miss Casewell, the proprietor of Monkswell Manor and the strange, aloof Molly Ralston after each cast change in Agatha Christie’s classic murder mystery THE MOUSETRAP at St Martin’s Theatre in London, I caught up with Arabella Neale and Emily Plumtree just before Christmas, who both kindly signed their respective sketches. Described as the ‘best-selling novelist of all time’, Dame Agatha initially wrote the play for radio in the late 1940’s, calling it THREE BLIND MICE. With the title changed, THE MOUSETRAP opened in the West End in 1952 and now, in its 67th year, is the longest initial run of any play in the history of modern theatre, passing 27,500 performances in September last year.

Amongst Arabella’s high profile stage roles, are Madame Thernardier in LES MISERABLES, Beatrice in MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING and the Duchess in THE DUCHESS OF MALFI. She recently featured in the award-winning BBC television mini-series A VERY ENGLISH SCANDAL opposite Hugh Grant.

ENDEAVOUR, HOLYOAKS and DOCTORS are among Emily’s list of small-screen credits. Her theatre work includes the part of Nerissa in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of THE MERCHANT OF VENICE, which she reprised at the Almeida Theatre in London, both directed by Rupert Goold. She was nominated for an Off West End Theatre Award for her performance as Anita in MY GIRL 2.

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Drawing: Denis Conway, Ciaran Dowd, Farzana Dua Elahe, Niall McNamee, Shane O’Regan, Donal Finn and Niamh Bracken in Chasing Bono

Autographed drawing of Denis Conway, Ciaran Dowd, Farzana Dua Elahe, Naill McNamee, Shane O'Regan, Donal Finn and Niamh Bracken in Chasing Bono at London's Soho Theatre

The pencil thin line between success and failure is vividly illustrated in the 90 minute play CHASING BONO, which has just completed its run at London’s Soho Theatre on Saturday.

In the 1970’s, Neil McCormack and Paul Henson, schoolmates at Mount Temple Comprehensive in Dublin shared the same ambition, to form bands and become global superstars. Paul changed his name to Bono and formed U2. Neil didn’t. The latter, the Telegraph’s esteemed chief pop and rock critic, is a successful author, radio pundit and television presenter, none of which remotely compensates for being a failed rock star. It was probably worse for his brother Ivan, who was offered a spot in Paul’s band ‘Feedback’, renamed ‘The Hype’ before becoming U2. But Neil persuaded him to stick with his group for a guaranteed shot at stardom.

CHASING BONO was written by ‘master mirth-makers’ Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais (THE LIKELY LADS, PORRIDGE, AUF WIEDERSEHEN, PET and THE COMMITMENTS) and is a stage adaption of their darker 2011 film KILLING BONO, which in turn was based on Neil’s 2003 memoirs, ‘I was Bono’s Doppelgänger’.

Critic Anne Cox writing in StageReview said it was a “charming piece, packed with cracking Irish humour and good performances… part rock-fable, part whimsy and part ridiculous screwball comedy.”

The cast is lead by Niall McNamee as Neil and Shane O’Regan as Bono, with Denis Conway, Ciaran Dowd, Farzana Dua Elahe, Donal Finn and Niamh Bracken, all of kindly signed my portrait montage for me at the Soho.

Drawing: Patsy Ferran and Matthew Needham in Summer and Smoke

Autographed drawing of Patsy Ferran and Matthew Needham in Summer and Smoke at theDuke of York's Theatre on London's West End

The West End transfer of the Rebecca Frecknall’s remarkable Almeida Theatre’s sell-out production of Tennessee Williams’ ‘most neglected work’, SUMMER AND SMOKE continues at the Duke of York’s until Saturday.

Set in a small Mississippi town one hundred years ago it centres on Alma Winemiller, a minister’s daughter and singing teacher who cares for her ailing mother, and her moth-like attraction to John Buchanan, an angry and resentful trainee doctor. It’s a devastating fable of half-requited love, missed moments and the ways we waste what little life we have, summarised in the byline, ‘Trapped between desire and a life of obligation, Alma meets John and her world turns upside-down.’

In his Variety review, Matt Trueman wrote, “It boasts two phenomenal performances at its heart: Patsy Ferran is a quiver of anxiety as Alma; Matthew Needham’s John, a river of despair. You will them together, knowing full well they’re bound to tear each other apart. It’s agonising to watch.”

Patsy and Matthew both signed my sketch late last year at the theatre.

Drawing: Kit Harington and Johnny Flynn in True West

Auotographed drawing of Kit Harington and Johnny Flynn in True West at the Vaudeville Theatre on London's West End

Kit Harington and Johnny Flynn are currently playing warring brothers Austin and Lee until next month in the West End revival of Sam Shephard’s ‘ferociously funny’

TRUE WEST at London’s Vaudeville Theatre. Described as a classic study of sibling rivalry, the 1980 play was a finalist for the Drama Pulitzer Prize. Austin is a clean-cut family man and Hollywood writer who has retreated to his mother’s Southern California home to finish a screenplay. He is disrupted by Lee, his older, feral brother, a petty thief and drifter, who has been wandering the Mojave Dessert for past three months.

In his Guardian review, Michael Billington points out that, “putting it crudely, Austin and Lee are both sides of a single personality – the instinctual and the intellectual aspects of the American character,” and summarises the performances, “At their best, the two actors are very good. Harington is especially convincing in the later stages as Austin unleashes his inner fury, aiming wild, drunken swings at the empty air and threatening to strangle his brother with a whipcord. Flynn also captures Lee’s initial menace as he hovers in a bullying manner over his brother and turns a golf club swing into a virtual death threat.”

Both Kit and Johnny kindly signed my drawing at the stage door prior to Christmas, and not a golf club in sight.

Drawing: Aimee Atkinson, Alexia McIntosh, Millie O’Connell, Natalie Paris, Maiya Quansah-Breed and Jarneia Richard-Noel in Six the Musical

Autographed drawing of Aimee Atkinson, Alexia McIntosh, Millie O'Connell, Natalie Paris, Maiya Quansah-Breed and Jarneia Richard-Noel in Six the Musical on London's West End

The ‘intoxicating Tudor take-off’, SIX THE MUSICAL by Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss tells the tales of Henry VIII’s six wives, from their perspective, transforming from Queens to pop princesses, remixing five hundred years of her-storical heartbreak. It’s promoted as ‘a 75 minute celebration of sisterly sassitude.’ After an earlier, limited West End run, followed by a brief UK tour, then a month long sell-out residency at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, SIX returned to London’s Arts Theatre for an extended season.

Writing in The Times, Ann Treneman said “I predict a hit” and she was right. The soundtrack album passed two million streams a week ago and the production has been nominated for four Broadway World UK Awards, including Best Ensemble to start the theatre gongs season. “The grand surprise, though is just how gloriously-persuasively-coherent, confident and inventive the whole thing is. The upfront (feminist) thesis is to take us beyond the rudiments of that kindergarten mnemonic, Divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived,” wrote Dominic Cavendish in his four-star review for the Telegraph.

The slick, kick-ass girl band members, Jarneia Richard-Noel (Catherine of Aragon), Millie O’Connell (Anne Boleyn), Natalie Paris (Jane Seymour), Alexia McIntosh (Anne of Cleves), Aimee Atkinson (Catherine Howard) and Maiya Quansah-Breed (Catherine Parr) perform a diverse range of musical genres from pop to hip-hop, including some R&B in an unsisterly competition, where each sing a song to prove they are the biggest victim.

All six signed my head sketches in the final week at the Arts Theatre, before embarking on another UK tour, returning to the London venue early next year.

Drawing: Jack Lowden in Ghosts

Autographed drawing of Jack Lowden in Ghosts at the Almeida Theatre and Trafalgar Studios on London's West End

Scottish actor Jack Lowden won the Olivier Award for his harrowing portrayal of an ailing and anguished artist in Richard Eyre’s London revival of Ibsen’s GHOSTS. Initially staged at the Almeida in the Autumn of 2013, the production transferred to the Trafalgar Studios in the West End, concluding in March 2014. Jack played Oswald Alving opposite Lesley Manville (who also won the Olivier) as Helen,his widowed mother. He has inherited syphilis from his lecherous late father and as his heath deteriorates, returns home from living as a painter in Paris, where falls for the maid Regina, who turns out to be his philandering father’s illegitimate daughter.

The subject matter of religion, general disease, incest and euthanasia, “caused an explosion of outrage and critical venom,” said the director, when it was first staged in 1882 in the US. In his five-star review for the Telegraph, Charles Spencer wrote, “Jack Lowden, big, shambolic and increasingly distraught as her bohemian artist son conveys the ugly, egotism of the chronically sick and the sheer terror of his terrible illness. The plays closing moments are almost too upsetting to watch.”

Jack is currently back on the London stage after enjoying his first major international onscreen success in the 2016 BBC miniseries WAR AND PEACE. He stars opposite Hayley Atwell in Shakespeare’s MEASURE FOR MEASURE at the Donmar Warehouse, Josie Rourke’s final production as artistic director for the intimate Covent Garden venue. In a unique gender-reversal, Jack and Hayley alternate the roles of Angelo and Isabella during the play. Jack signed my sketch when he arrived for last Saturday’s matinee.

Drawing: Neve McIntosh in Killer Joe

Autographed drawing of Neve McIntosh in Killer Joe at the Trafalgar Studios on London's West End

Scottish actress Neve McIntosh made her West End debut this summer in Tracy Letts American southern gothic comedy KILLER JOE at the Trafalgar Studios. She played Sharla, the stepmother in the ‘fiercely disturbing’ play, set in a Texas trailer park about the dysfunctional Smith family who hire a detective and hit-man Joe Cooper to kill the mother and claim the insurance.

In her WhatsOnStage review, Sarah Crompton wrote they Neve “adds insight and sass to her scenes as Sharla the stepmother, determined to survive and make as much of life as she can.” Neve herself described the play as “dark, funny, shocking and very human.”

She’s a familiar face on the small screen, appearing in a number of popular British shows, including a recurring role as Madame Vastra in DOCTOR WHO and architect Kay Gillies in BBC1’s miniseries THE REPLACEMENT.

She signed my Shayla sketch at the beginning of the run in June and the portrait during the final week at the stage door in August.

Autographed drawing of actress Neve McIntosh

Drawing: Rachel Redford in The Jungle

Autographed drawing of Rachel Redford in The Jungle at the Playhouse Theatre on London's West End

One of the rising stars of British theatre is Welsh-born RADA graduate Rachel Redford, who is currently one of the 18 characters, a blend of refugees and British volunteers in Joe Murphy and Joe Robertson’s THE JUNGLE at London’s Playhouse theatre. She was part of the original Young Vic cast that transferred to the West End back in June in the wake of five- star reviews.

THE JUNGLE, defined as a ‘vital drama’ by The Guardian, focuses on the hopeful, resilient residents of the Calais refugee camp in 2015. Rachel plays Beth, a young teacher, described as a ‘passionate bundle of outrage.’

In her Evening Standard review Fiona Mountford summed up the British volunteers involvement, as a “true Empire hangover… they want to improve order on this sea of human desperation but are hopelessly out of their depth.”

Rachel signed my sketch for me after a Saturday matinee performance a few weeks ago.

Drawing: Jo McInnes in The Jungle

Autographed drawing of Jo McInnes in The Jungle at the Playhouse Theatre on London's West End

Jo McInnes divides her time between acting and directing. She is currently appearing in the hugely acclaimed THE JUNGLE at the Playhouse theatre in London’s West End. Jo was a member of the original cast when the play premiered last year, with previews from 16 June (World Refugee Day) and transferred with the production across the river to its present venue. It is scheduled to cross a wider stretch of water and set up in New York later this year.

Set in Europe’s largest unofficial refugee camp, the Calais Jungle on the northern French coast, which became the home for more than 10,000 people in 2015, it immerses audiences in all the complexities and contradictions of a refugee camp.

In his Variety review, Matt Bateman wrote, “THE JUNGLE does everything theatre does best, and more.” Jo plays the pragmatic and jaded volunteer Paula, a ‘free swearing child protector… a caring, no-nonsense matriarch’

She signed my sketch of her in the role at the stage door last month.

Drawing: Dominic Rowan in The Jungle

Autographed drawing of Dominic Rowan in The Jungle at the Playhouse Theatre on London's West End

One of Britain’s leading stage actors, Dominic Rowan has added the critically acclaimed THE JUNGLE to his already extensive list of credits, which is matched by his TV work, including his role as CPS prosecutor Jacob Thorne in the ITV crime drama LAW AND ORDER: UK.

He joined the cast of THE JUNGLE, the immersive play about the now-bulldozed migrant camp in Calais, after its sell-out run at Young Vic over the winter, when the production transferred to The Playhouse Theatre in June. Dominic plays Derek, an idealistic, somewhat self-important seasoned charity worker. He will stay with the show after it completes its West End run next month and shifts camp stateside to New York.

Dominic has kindly signed a number of my sketches at various stage doors over the years. He did this ‘Derek’ drawing for me a few weeks ago as he arrived for a Saturday matinee.