Drawing: Audra McDonald as Billie Holiday in the Lady Day at the Emerson’s Bar &Grill

One of Broadway’s genuine musical theatre superstars has finally made her West End debut. Six-time Tony Award winner Audra McDonald made her long awaited London stage appearance last month, reprising her 2014 Broadway role as Billie Holiday in LADY DAY AT THE EMERSON’S BAR & GRILL at Wyndham’s Theatre.

“One legend playing another,” wrote Michael Billington in his Guardian review. Dominic Cavendish in The Telegraph said her performance was “pouring divine nectar into your ears; here, beautifully modulated, is all the playfulness, mischief, yearning, sadness and stoicism to be found in those crackling records of long ago.”

Audra is the first person to win six Tonys for acting and the first person to win the award in all four acting categories. She has also collected Grammy and Emmy Awards. Her Tony winners are CAROUSAL (1994), MASTER CLASS (1996), RAGTIME (1998), A RAISIN IN THE SUN (2004), PORGY AND BESS (2012) and LADY DAY (2014).

It was an absolute pleasure to meet her at the stage door a couple of weeks ago as she arrived for the Saturday matinee. She loved the drawing and graciously signed it for me.

Drawing: Ben Turner and Andrei Costin in The Kite Runner

kite-runner

Afghan-American author Khaled Hosseini’s debut 2003 novel THE KITE RUNNER became an International best-seller and was adapted into a 2007 film. Matthew Spangler’s stage version is currently running in the West End at Wyndham’s Theatre until March.

It’s a haunting tale of the unlikely friendship between Amir, a wealthy boy from Kabul and his closest friend and kite-running partner Hassan, the son of his father’s servant. Andrei Costin is Hassan and former CASUALTY star Ben Turner plays Amir as an adult who speaks directly to the audience, retrospectively looking back at the events that led to him becoming a refugee in California and the terrible incident that would shatter their lives forever. Both signed this drawing for me after last Saturday’s matinee.

Drawing: Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart, Owen Teale and Damien Molony in No Man’s Land

no-mans-land

Following their hit run on Broadway, Sirs Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart brought the Pinter masterpiece NO MAN’S LAND to the West End for a sell-out season at Wyndham’s Theatre, which concluded on Saturday last. They were joined by Owen Teale and Damien Molony in this much-anticipated revival of Harold Pinter’s 1975 cryptic and hilariously tragicomedy directed by Sean Mathias.

A pub postman, Spooner (Sir Ian) is invited back to the luxurious Hampstead pad of Hirst, (Sir Patrick) a famous writer, where they proceed to get trollied on epic amounts of whiskey and vodka, and spend the evening in drunken conversation as the guest ingratiates himself on his near comatose host only interrupted by the intimidating manservants Briggs (Owen) and Foster (Damien). The play is evoked by the classic English farce, laden with ‘peachy’ one-liners such as Briggs, “the best time to drink champagne is before lunch, you cunt.”

In a nutshell, it looks at the absurdity and chaos of late life and the disintegration of memory. TimeOut said of the Sirs performance,”Two actors who still live up to their legend, nailing one of the great works of a playwrights who still lives up to his.”

I managed to get Sir Ian, Owen and Damien to graph this montage sketch in person at the stage door, but Sir Patrick was a little more elusive. I tried on a few occasions, but he had  guests or had to rush off, so missed him. However, caught in no man’s land in the final week, I passed it onto  the helpful Joshua at Wyndham’s, who did get the drawing to Sir Patrick and it was returned signed, completing the set.

Drawing: Alexander Hanson and Frances O’Connor in The Truth

The Truth

Eighteen months ago very few theatre-goers in London had heard of Florian Zeller. Now the Parisian playwright is “the go-to man if you are looking for 90 minutes of elegant perceptive drama that plays games with the slippery nature of theatrical reality,” according to WhatsOnStage critic Sarah Crompton.

His latest offering, THE TRUTH completes a dazzling hat-trick that includes THE FATHER and its companion piece THE MOTHER, both of which have graced the London stage to critical acclaim recently. THE TRUTH, directed by Lindsay Posner, opened at the Menier Chocolate Factory earlier this year and has transferred to the West End’s Wyndham’s Theatre. In her five-star review for the Guardian, Kate Kellaway described it as “a devious must-see.”

Like his previous English successes, LA VERITE, which was written in 2011, has been translated by Christopher Hampton. It’s a confounding and unsettling tale of infidelity and the lying game as Michel (Alexander Hanson) attempts to keep his wife (Tanya Franks), his mistress (Frances O’Connor) and his best friend (Robert Portal) in the dark about his intentions. Sarah Crompton wrote, “It’s a plot as slim as a Parisian woman, and just as sophisticated, with a faint whiff of 1950’s wreathing its etiolated gestures.”

Both Frances and Alexander signed my drawing at the stage door after last Saturday’s matinee.

Drawing: Denise Gough in People, Places and Things

Denise Gough

The favourite to win this week’s Olivier Award for Best Actress is Denise Gough for her exceptional performance as a recovering addict in Duncan Macmillian’s PEOPLE, PLACES AND THINGS. She has already won the Critics’ Circle Award. A year ago, the Irish actress was out of work and contemplating quitting acting. She applied for a cleaning job and auditioned for the play at the National Theatre, winning the lead role. It opened on the National’s Dorfman stage last September to rave reviews and a sell-out season, transferring to the West End’s Wyndham’s Theatre this month for a twelve week run.

“The extraordinary Denise Gough electrifies as a raging, terrified addict” wrote Susannah Clapp in her Guardian review.

Denise signed my sketch at the Wyndham’s stage door prior to Saturday’s matinee. Oh and apparently she didn’t get the cleaning job, which was just as well really.

Drawing: Hangmen

Hangmen 2

After a 12-year hiatus writing for the stage, London-born Irish playwright Martin
McDonagh returns to theatre, which he described in The Observer as the ‘worst of all artforms’. If that’s the case, he’s doing his best to mock that  statement with his latest dark comical  offering, HANGMEN, a savage satire on the justice and punishment system – ‘the grimmer side of the swinging sixties’.

Described by one reviewer as a cross between Harold Pinter’s ‘linguistic gamesmanship’ and Joe Orton’s ‘gallows humour’, it’s the Olivier, Oscar and BAFTA winner’s first play set in England, in a small pub in Oldham in 1965 to be precise. Receiving rave reviews and a cluster of five-stars after it’s sell-out run at the Royal Court earlier last year, the production transferred to the West End’s Wyndham’s Theatre and is scheduled to finish in March this year.

What’s Harry Wade, the second-best hangman in England to do on the day they’ve abolished hanging? A reporter and the regular tavern sycophants want to know his reaction, as a peculiar stranger lurks amongst them with a very different motive. Led by David Morrissey as Wade, the outstanding cast includes Andy Nyman, Johnny Flynn, Sally Rogers, Bronwyn James, Ryan Pope, Simon Rouse, Craig Parkinson, Tony Hirst, John Hodgkinson,James Dryden and Josef Davis.
With such a large  ensemble, it took more than one sketch to fit them all in and more than one attempt to get it graphed. At this point I thought of resisting the term ‘hanging around stage doors’. But I didn’t. If it’s good enough for distinguished critics like Dominic Cavendish to write “doesn’t loosen it’s grip from start to finish,” and Paul Taylor to say “drop-dead hilarious… perfectly executed,” then I’m in good company. And speaking of good company, the HANGMEN cast were excellent on and off the stage.

Hangmen

Drawing: Kenneth Cranham and Claire Skinner in The Father

Kenneth Cranham Claire Skinner The Father

‘The most acclaimed new play of the decade’, The Father has just transferred to London’s Wyndham’s Theatre for a limited 8-week run after it’s UK tour. Receiving an unprecedented nine 5-star reviews from all of the British major newspaper critics and winner of France’s highest theatrical honour, the 2014 Moliere Award for Best Play, this Theatre Royal Bath and Tricycle Theatre production is based on Christopher Hampton’s ‘crisp and witty’ adaption of French playwright Florian Zeller’s savagely honest study of dementia. Tony and Olivier Award nominees Kenneth Cranham as the titular character Andre and Claire Skinner as his daughter Anne lead the superb cast. The Telegraph’s Dominic Cavendish wrote,”One of the most absorbing and distressing portraits of dementia I’ve ever seen.” The writer wants the audience to ‘get lost in a mental labyrinth’, not to simply be a witness of the effects of Alzheimer’s, but to actually feel the confusion and the devastating realisation and loss of what is slipping away. In many reviews it was reported that the final scene has most of the audience sobbing and some having to be helped from the auditorium.

The stage doors of both the Wyndham’s and Noel Coward Theatre’s open out onto a small shared alleyway. Photograph 51 with Nicole Kidman is currently running at the later, attracting a large crowd for it’s A-list star, which means The Father cast can be a little difficult to find emerging at the same time, especially on a Saturday night. Howeve, I managed to locate both Kenneth and Claire to sign my sketch.

Drawing: Stephen Merchant and Steffan Rhodri in The Mentalists

the mentalists

“The oddest of odd couple comedy”, is how Richard Bean’s The Mentalists is described by a number of critics. “It’s a sympathetic understanding of the darker recesses of the human heart,” wrote Charles Spencer in the Mail.  The play revolves around Ted and Morrie, two men holed up in a budget hotel in Finsbury Park, making an apocalyptic video. Premiering in 2002 at the National, it was revived last month at London’s Wyndham’s Theatre, directed by Abbey Wright, with Steffan Rhodri as  Morrie and making his ‘impressive’ (The Independent) West End debut, Stephen Merchant as Ted. ‘Very Funny’, said TimeOut and Paul Taylor commented on the “fine Merchant-Rhodri chemistry”, in The Independent, so catch it before it finishes on 29 August!

I did a couple of sketches-one with Stephen, which he signed earlier in the run and one of the ‘oddest of odd couples’, which I got graphed over the weekend. So now I have an odd couple of drawings. 

Drawing: The King’s Speech

The Kings Speech

Before it reached the big screen, The King’s Speech was a play. At its heart is the relationship between the stuttering King George VI and the Australian speech therapist Lionel Logue’s treatment to correct the English Royal’s debilitating impediment.

As a child, writer David Seidler developed a stammer caused by the emotional trauma of World War II, including the murder of his grandparents during the Holocaust. King George VI’s success overcoming his stammer inspired him . He began researching the story in the 1970s and 80s but abandoned it after the Queen Mother asked him not to pursue the project during her lifetime. After she died in 2002, he returned to it. David discovered his own uncle was also a stutterer, who had been sent to see Lionel Logue by David’s grandfather. At a reading of the play in London’s small Pleasance Theatre in 20015 to a group of Australian expats, Tom Hooper’s mother was present and contacted her son with his “next project”.

Tom asked David to develop the screenplay. It went on to win the BAFTA and the Best Picture Oscar, however the play was left unproduced until 2012.

It made its West End premiere at Wyndhams Theatre in March after a UK tour and strong reviews. It featured Charles Edwards as the King, Jonathan Hyde as Lionel, Emma Fielding (Queen Elizabeth), Joss Ackland (George V) and Ian McNeice (Winston Churchill).

They all signed this sketch on the 12 May 2012 after the final performance.

Drawing: Stephen Merchant in The Mentalists at Wyndham’s Theatre

Stephen Merchant

Stephen Merchant embarked on his West End theatre debut last week in the revival of Richard Bean’s 2002 comedy THE MENTALISTS at Wyndham’s Theatre, saying it was a great chance to do some “proper acting”.

The BAFTA and Emmy Award-winning ‘lanky comic’, (as TimeOut described him) shares the stage with GAVIN AND STACEY’s Steffan Rhodri in a two-hander about a fanatical man called Ted (Stephen) armed with his trusty video camera and Morrie (Steffan), an off-duty hairdresser with wild fantasies , holed up in a Finsbury Park hotel, filming utopian messages that could go global.

Stephen is best-known for his collaborations with Ricky Gervais on THE OFFICE, EXTRAS, LIFE’S TOO SHORT and AN IDIOT ABROAD as well as their cult podcast series. When asked by TimeOut was he nervous about his theatrical debut, Stephen replied, ‘I’ll probably regret ever doing it within two days, because I’ll just be so tired. But my grandfather was a builder and my dad was a plumber, which is proper work, so I’m not going to fuss about two hours a night”.

Well, that philosophical approach got an early test. On the second night he sustained stage damage, emerging from the theatre holding an ice-pack, or some  anti-inflammatory pad…or maybe just a face-cloth…either way it was covering  a wound on the lower arm of his signing wing! Yikes. A theatre assistant muttered something about a burn. However it merely slowed things a little as Stephen graciously signed and posed for selfies for the sizeable crowd waiting. I felt a bit guilty asking him to add a dedication as well, but he was happy to oblige.