Nicholas Nickleby in Yorkshire


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The month of June sees me travelling the country to perform at a wide range of events, including the annual, albeit re-branded, Rochester Summer Dickens Festival, a podcast appearance chatting about my book, a visit to a historic railway centre where I shall be performing The Signalman in the shadow of a real signal box and a steaming locomotive, and finally a journey back to Cheshire to perform Great Expectations again – very busy, very exciting.

My professional month started on June 2nd with a return visit to the magnificent Wentworth Woodhouse estate near Rotherham in Yorkshire, where I was to perform Nicholas Nickleby and Doctor Marigold at a fundraising dinner. I first visited this remarkable house, which dates back to 1725, a year ago and my performances had been received so well that I have been booked for two dates this year, the second being as part of my Christmas tour in November. On Friday morning I loaded the car with all of the props and costumes that I would need and set off at, in order to give me plenty of time to break the journey for some lunch, and still arrive at my hotel early, so that I could shower and rest before heading to the house. As it happened, I needed all of the extra time because the M1 was heavy with traffic and at one point came to a complete standstill for about 20 minutes. Why? I don’t know, for when we did start moving again there seemed to be no sign of an accident or blockage on the carriageway – maybe an errant horse or swan had meandered onto the road bringing the country’s main North-South thoroughfare to a halt.

I had hoped to reach my hotel at around 3pm, thereby giving me almost two hours to rest, but as it was I arrived at 4.15 meaning I just had time for a refreshing shower (and it WAS refreshing, more on the shower later), before driving the fifteen minutes to the village of Wentworth. I turned into the driveway at exactly 5pm and marvelled once again at the new East front of the house. The original Jacobean-styled 1725 architecture facing West had not been widely admired and an alternative Palladian-inspired building was commissioned which now dominates the gently rolling parkland around.

As I pulled up I thought how lucky I am to perform in such wonderful venues. Of course Highclere Castle is now a regular stop at Christmas, but in the past I have also visited the magnificent, and slightly bonkers, Knebworth House, where Charles Dickens himself was a frequent visitor. My time at Knebworth came back to me this week, when I read an article on the BBC website about using the ancestral home of the Bulwer-Lytton family for filming purposes. The feature mentioned that Netflix had asked for permission to remove a certain window, a request that had been declined. The article quoted the current owner, Henry Lytton-Cobbold (or the 3rd Baron Cobbold) who said ‘The last time a window came out was for Charles Dickens in the 1860s so he could get an instrument in. But we couldn’t do it for Netflix.’ Well! this piqued my curiosity no end, and I instantly emailed Lord C to ask him about the circumstances of Dickens’ visit. He replied almost instantly, saying ‘For the 1850 theatricals at Knebworth to provide music for the performance Dickens hired a huge hybrid musical instrument called a ‘choremusicon’, which he assured would be ‘better than three musicians’ and could be hoisted in through the Banqueting Hall window’ I can see that incident being the basis of a new Netflix mini-series, although of course the production team would not be allowed to remove the window, so we are back to square one….

Back to my Yorkshire trip, and as soon as I arrived I was warmly welcomed and given help to unload the car. For all its grandeur Wentworth Woodhouse is in a bit of a state (as well as being in an estate), and is owned by the Wentoworth Woodhouse Preservation Trust, whose mission it is to restore and preserve the building. Much amazing work has already been done, but there is plenty yet to do, and peeling paint and cracked plaster are not hidden away, rather they act as a very visual reminder to the visitor of the monumental undertaking that lies before the dedicated staff.

I was to perform Nickleby in the Whistlejacket room, which is named in honour of the racehorse featured in a George Stubbs’ painting, a copy of which still dominates the room, although the original is the National Gallery in London.

I carried my furniture up the main staircase, overlooked by various marble statues and busts, and arranged it in front of the ten dining tables which were awaiting preparation for the guests, who would be sitting down to eat at 7.30. My performance space was beneath Whistlejacket (which would prove useful later that evening), but was quite limited, being very close to the front tables. Nickleby is a very theatrical show, with quite large scenes featuring a school-master’s cane being violently wielded, so I would have to be very careful not to inadvertently inflict wounds on my audience.

Last year I performed ‘Mr Dickens is Coming’ before dinner, and The Signalman after, and I had assumed that this year’s event would run along similar lines, but as I was preparing I was told that actually dinner would be served first, and then I would perform Nickleby, take a short interval and then go straight into Marigold, which meant a lot of work all squeezed together later in the evening. Fortunately my dressing room was in one of the mansion’s many bedrooms, and I was able to stretch out and nap, whilst final preparations were made and the guests began to arrive. My bedroom was situated off The Long Gallery, which is used to serve afternoon teas, and the sun poured in through a floor-to-ceiling bow window, casting a magnificent avenue of light onto the floor, and I took the opportunity to take a very atmospheric picture of my shadow cast onto the floor.

As the guests dined I was brought dinner too, and it was delicious – especially the dessert which was a small baked apple, filled with fruits and served with a small shortbread biscuit and a pool of custard. My mother used to make baked apple, and sitting in Victorian costume, I was swept back to happy childhood memories.

But now I had to bring myself back to the present moment and prepare to be an actor again. Mark Barthrop, who is in charge of fundraising and is my contact at WW, appeared to check that I was ready, and having received an affirmative answer went into the room to introduce me (having first thanked the chef and all of the volunteers who had made the evening possible.)

I managed to successfully squeeze the performance into the small space, without inflicting any injuries, but there was one aspect of the evening that made me very nervous (and had weighed heavily on my mind during the whole build up to the day), and that was the matter of my Yorkshire accent. Much of Nicholas Nickleby is set in the school kept by Mr Wackford Squeers and his family in North Yorkshire. ‘The Yorkshire Schools’ were a scandal at the time the book was written and Charles Dickens had taken on the cause with his usual campaigning vigour. The establishments in question took children, sometimes illegitimate, sometimes from a previous marriage, but usually an embarrassment to a respectable family, and in return for yearly fees made sure they were kept out of the way as far from London as possible. The boys were beaten, ill-treated and malnourished and many died and were buried in the school precincts.

So, here I was in Yorkshire, surrounded by Yorkshire folk, putting on my best (hopefully) Yorkshire accent and basically being very rude about the county! However fortunately the audience seemed to like the show and laughed and clapped along with me. In the scene when Mr Squeers is teaching a class he asks one boy ‘what is a horse?’ before instructing the poor child to go and see to the stables and clean the horses. As I got to the line I realised that behind me was the huge rearing image of Whistlejacket, and I was able to refer to the portrait as if it were a teaching aid in Dotheboys Hall: ‘An ‘orse is a quadruped, and quadruped is Latin for beast!’

The performance came to an end, and now I had a brief interval while everyone withdrew to a small drawing room downstairs, where chairs had been laid out in a theatrical style, meaning that the volunteers could clear the Whistlejacket room. I ran back to the Yellow Bedroom to change into my Doctor Marigold costume before getting the nod again from Mark, and starting on my favourite performance.

In a previous blog post I mentioned that Doctor Marigold is one of the scripts that I can almost do without much rehearsing, but as I had not performed it since last September, I had put a good few hours into rehearsal. The drawing room was perfect for the show, as it was much more intimate than upstairs, and the walls were lined with bookshelves, which ties in with the plot line. Regular readers will know how much I enjoy inhabiting the loving, caring, resilient character of Doctor Marigold, the fast-talking market cheapjack., and it was an honour to become him once again. As is so often the case, the audience were entranced by his story, and many gasped at the line towards the end of the show which, according to Dickens’ tour manager George Dolby, produced the same effect on Victorian audiences. I took my bows still in a highly emotional state as I always am when Marigold says farewell.

As the audience left many came up to shake me by the hand and to tell me how moved they had been, how beautiful the story was, and how they would definitely be back at Christmas to see me perform ‘The Carol’. When everyone had made their way into the night, I changed and when I got back to the entrance hall was delighted to find that all of my furniture and props had been brought to the door, meaning that the loading of the car was an easy and quick process. I said my goodbyes, and shook hands before driving away from the magnificent house. There was an almost full, and gloriously golden, moon out which accompanied me back to my hotel.

I didn’t sleep well that night, I rarely do after a performance, and as all of the rigours of this one had been late in the evening, the adrenaline was still in my veins, and my mind was buzzing but eventually sleep came.

Just a final word about my stay at the Rotherham-Sheffield Holiday Inn, and that is that it seemed to have been designed by someone who actually stays in hotel rooms. My suspicion is based on two facts, the first being that the controls for the shower are not under the shower head, behind the shower screen, but on the opposite wall, meaning that you don’t have to reach right in and get a very wet arm when turning it on. The second detail was the laying of the cutlery for breakfast (it is a Gerald Dickens blog post – you KNEW that there would be mention of breakfast sooner or later, didn’t you?) As is the way of things nowadays the breakfast was a buffet, and the tables were laid with a spoon, fork and two knives.

Why two knives? Well, you use one to cut into your bacon, sausage, scrambled eggs, beans, mushrooms and whatever else you may have piled onto your plate, but what you don’t want is to use that same food-covered and flavoured knife to spread marmalade onto your toast or croissant – such a simple thing, but it made me smile and silently thank whoever had realised this and acted on it, to make a stay easier.

Next week I drive in the opposite direction, South to Kent where I will once again be performing Nicholas Nickleby at the Rochester Dickens Festival.

To Cheshire and Weaver Words


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My Spring tour continued on Saturday night when I headed North once more, this time to the county of Cheshire where I had been booked to perform as part of the Weaver Words Literary Festival in the small town of Frodsham which nestles at the point where the River Weaver joins the mighty Mersey. I have performed for the festival before, so this promised to be a nice return to a county that I very much enjoy.

As I mentioned last week, I was to perform Great Expectations, which is quite an involved and complicated script, and I had been going over and over the lines for a few weeks previously. Fortunately by Saturday Liz’s car had been fully repaired so I didnt need to hire another van, but could load up my trusty Renault with the various pieces of furniture that I required, including the white hat stand that forms Miss Havisham’s skeleton.

The drive was considerably shorter than that of 7 days earlier, taking only three hours, and I arrived at my hotel at 4pm, which gave me plenty of time to rest before preparing for the show. I was due to meet Philip Reeves, a radio journalist working for America’s National Public Radio, but based in England. We were due to contact each other by phone to arrange a good time to meet and talk before the show, but as it happened we didn’t need to, for we arrived at The Best Western hotel at exactly the same, and, having recognised me from my various online images, he introduced himself to me at the desk. We arranged to meet up in the lobby at 5.30 to record part of the feature that he was making.

I went to my room, watched some TV (the Snooker World Championship) before having a shower to freshen up and then heading to the hotel foyer where Philip was already waiting. We found a small conservatory space in which the inevitable muzak was not being played and settled down to chat, for his technique was very conversational, rather than a barrage of pre-prepared questions. We started talking about my background and career but soon he steered the conversation around to the current BBC adaptation of Great Expectations, which was his main focus. The show has created a great deal of controversy, for it doesn’t portray the soft-focus Victorian age than many would want or expect to see on a Sunday night. Instead the series is dark, violent, and not at all reflecting what Charles Dickens wrote in 1861. There are scenes of sadism, opium smoking, suicide, murder and all of this is laced with a foul-mouthed vocabulary which would make a maiden aunt blush.

So, what do I think about Great Expectations? Well, firstly I must say that I admire and accept any author’s attempt to adapt any work, by the very nature of the process every single adaptation (my own stage shows included) will be flawed and not reflect the original author’s vision. The only way to experience a pure telling of a novel is to read that novel. I therefore respect the producers and their decision to tell the story in their own way, I don’t even have an issue with their changing of plotlines and characters to tell their story. The truth is, that whatever a screenwriter does, however wild their vision, they will never taint the works of my great great grandfather – he is too big for that. Indeed, the very fact that hard-nosed producers are still investing millions of dollars into new adaptations is proof as to his standing, even a quarter of the way through the 21st century. So by mucking about with Great Ex, the memory and legacy of Charles Dickens will not be harmed, I am sure of that, So, what next? Well one of my major problems with the new version is why Great Expectations? It has been done so often (Helena Bonham-Carter, Gillian Anderson and Gwyneth Paltrow have all played Miss Havisham in recent years) and I don’t understand the need to do it yet again (says the actor who was preparing to perform his own adaptation!) If you are going ‘off the wall’ then why not choose one of the lesser-known novels which would not excite the same level of public outcry? I think the series was flawed as soon as they chose Great Expectations.

My second point about the show is that it has to stand up as a piece of theatre or entertainment on its own, without relying on the controversy to give it it legs, and this is where it disappoints me, I have found myself following it out of duty, rather than with any desire to see what is going to happen. I have found my mind wandering and getting a little bored by the whole thing. Some of the scenes and characters I admire, and can see how the original influenced them, but it will finish when it finishes and not leave any waves behind it.

Phillip and I chatted for about 40 minutes, with him gently prodding me to denounce the adaptation, raising many of the criticisms that have been aired and published in recent weeks for me to comment on. By 6.15 I needed to leave for the hall to prepare for the show, so we wrapped up the interview for now, and I drove the 5 minutes to The Frodsham Community Centre. In the carpark there were a few early audience members waiting for the doors to open (they are keen in the North West), and I unloaded all of my props. My contact with the Weaver Words Festival is Lynn Pegler and having greeted one another I started to place all of the furniture in the correct places. The set is dominated by a Miss Havisham figure standing upstage left, made from the white hatstand draped with various white and ivory fabrics to create the image of a stately bride.

When everything was in its correct place I went to the main hallway to introduce Phillip to Lynn (he was going to record some of the show for his feature) and found that there was a long queue waiting to come in, and many of them offered greetings as they had seen me in other venues throughout Cheshire and on Merseyside. I have quite a following now in this part of the country and love performing for what can be the most enthusiastic audiences imaginable. Having shaken a few hands and said a few hellos, I retired to my dressing room where I dressed and prepared for the evening ahead.

At 7.30 Lynn came to the dressing room to check that I was ready and then went to the stage to welcome the almost sell-out audience, and to introduce me. I stood in the wings, eager to begin like a caged Lion desperate to be released. Fortunately the opening lines are explosive, as the character of Magwitch pounces on Pip in the churchyard. The story is quite dark and intense, but is punctuated by Dickens’s trademark humour (rather overlooked by the BBC). In the opening scenes the audience chuckle and laugh at Pip’s sister, Mrs Joe Gargery, but are then taken into the confusing and domineering world of Miss Havisham at Satis House.

The first act went very well and was greeted by warm applause, which is always a relief with this particular show. I changed from the working clothes of the first act into the smart frock coat ensemble needed in the second, to reflect Pip’s progress from the Kentish Marshes to the respectability of London. I made sure the stage was cleared of the detritus of the first act (scattered playing cards and various items of costume), and then patiently waited until Lynn once again appeared.

The second act features dear old Wemmick and his Aged Parent as comic relief, before getting back to Pip’s frustrations regarding the beautiful Estella and the revelation as to the real provider of his great expectations. Very frustratingly I missed two lines of dialogue between Pip and Magwitch in which the convict, returned from Australia, introduces himself – this meant that the audience never knew that he is called Magwitch, or had used the pseudonym of Provis, making some of the later scenes potentially very confusing. Most annoying, especially after all the work I’d put in. Hey, ho, sometimes these things happen and I just had to put it from my mind and concentrate on doing a good job for the rest of the show.

In my script I use the second ending that Dickens wrote, in which he meets the ruin of Estella in the ruins of Satis House, the novel closes with them hand in hand, leaving the desolate grounds and hopefully into a life together.

Apart from my missed line, it was very good, energetic and convincing performance, and the applause at the end told me that it had hit the right marks with the audience. When the clapping had died down I opened the floor to questions, and was asked about the 2 endings to Great Expectations, about how Dickens had performed when he was on tour, naturally about the TV series, about my childhood experiences in the shadow of Charles and a few others. Eventually I wrapped up the evening and took another round of applause before making my way to the little merchandise table from which I sold my book, some A Christmas Carol brochures, as well as the DVD of A Christmas Carol. Lots of people came to chat and pose for photos. One particularly gratifying comment came from two separate ladies (I suppose that makes it two comments) who both told me that they were hard of hearing and yet could hear every word of my show. Good old fashioned projection and enunciation has always been a central part of my enjoyment when performing, and to have confirmation that my vocal talents are still working successfully is important to me.

Eventually the audience departed and having posed for a few photos on stage with the various volunteers from the festival, including Irina, a children’s author from the Ukraine, I started to change into my normal clothes and pack up the car again. It was around 10.30 when I left the hall, and realised that I hadn’t made any provision for dinner – the hotel restaurant would be closed, and there wasn’t much in the way of local restaurants who may be able to deliver at that time of night. Fortunately I had noticed a petrol station in the town, which had a convenience store attached and it lived up to its title for it was conveniently open. I bought a sandwich, some crisps, a box of little strawberry tarts for my dessert and drove back to the hotel where I sat on the bed watching a film on TV as my mind and my body gently wound down for the night.

The next morning I woke early and headed to the dining room at 7am, when the breakfast serviced started. The room was circular with floor to ceiling windows giving an impressive view of the landscape outside. The hotel is built on the top of Overton Hill which is a commanding position, and the scene before me was made more dramatic by squally rain that was sweeping across the countryside. I was looking over Mersey river, flowing inland from Liverpool, the Weaver and towards the towns of Runcorn and Widnes on the opposite banks.

Having finished my breakfast, it was soon time to get on the road and head back south once more, It had been a successful two weeks and it was good to back touring again and to feel the enthusiasm of the audiences. After a time away from the stage it is always reassuring to know that I can still do it, and that the public still enjoy it. The rest of my year is well booked with more visits to the North, the south and into Wales, and then of course I will be returning to America for my 30th anniversary tour in November and December – an exciting year, indeed.

Emergency Warnings at The Word


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On Friday 23 December I finished my 2022 tour by performing at the Guildhall in Leicester. On Sunday 23 April, 4 months later, I performed again, for the first time since my various medical shenanigans laid me low. A quarter of year is a long time to be off the stage and I was worried that I may be a bit ring rusty. The show in question was my adaptation of The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby, one of the very first shows that I adapted in the early 1990s.

A few weeks ago I started to go through the lines and to my delight discovered that they came back to me as quick as you like. On the whole my various scripts settle into different tiers of memory, there are those that I can just step up and perform with little preparation (A Christmas Carol, Mr Dickens is Coming! and Nicholas Nickleby fall into that category). Next there are a couple of scripts which are NEARLY there, The Signalman and Doctor Marigold need a little work before I perform them, but not much. The next tier has one script in it, and that is Great Expectations, which needs quite a bit of rehearsing before I am confident of taking it onto the stage, and then there is a collection of old shows that I haven’t done for years, any one of which would need me to start from scratch to build up to a performance (Top Hole, The Complete Works of Charles Dickens, To Begin With, A Tale of Two Cities and some others). It so happens that the week after Nickleby I will be performing Great Expectations, so most of my time over the past days has been spent on that show, making sure that the lines are properly in my mind.

Back to Nickleby on the 23rd and I was due to travel to the far North East of England to perform once more in the amazing Word Library in South Shields. Usually I would pack all of the props into my car for the journey North, but this week was different for Liz’s car has been undergoing some fairly major repairs (a replacement cylinder head gasket), and was still in the garage, and we were down to one car between us, and she would need it at home, so I hired a small van. On Saturday I loaded all of the furniture and props that I would need: the red reading desk, a chair, a frame and red fabric to make a screen, the little octagonal table and a chair (both of which I treated with furniture polish, for they looked rather faded and tired after a long period of storage), my heavy prop box containing various smaller items that I would need, including a rope noose and a large book. I packed various items of merchandise as well as my costume and I would be ready to leave early on Sunday morning.

The drive to South Shields takes around 4 1/2 hours, and as my show was an early one, starting at 2pm, I would need to be there by 12.30, which meant setting off at 7.30 (allowing time for stops for coffee and maybe a bite of early lunch.) I felt great in my little white van, and the traffic was light that early. The morning radio programme was covering the build up to The London Marathon and I felt a sense of excitement for the runners, remembering my experiences last October when I ran in the Oxford Half Marathon. I had some friends running, but the competitor I was most in awe of was my nephew Guy, who was running to raise funds for the Macmillan Cancer charity – of course this was impressive enough in its own right, but in Guy’s case he was running despite the fact that he is in the middle of his own course of chemotherapy treatment.

As the journey went on, I ran through some of my lines, making sure that the Nickleby script really was in my head and hadn’t been driven out by the hard work I’d been putting in on Great Expectations. Fortunately all the lines came naturally, and I could be sure that I would be in a safe place when I stepped onto the stage later that day. I also played my ‘Car Alphabet’ game, when I have to spot cars with the make or model names staring with each letter of the alphabet in order. Many of the letters are easy – Audi, BMW, Citroen etc, but there are a few traditional stumbling blocks, O, for instance (Skoda Octavia is the best bet, but unless I am following one it is difficult to differentiate between an Octavia and a Superb), and my real nemesis is W, for which there are only 3 cars that qualify and none of them are very popular in England, one is the Jeep Wrangler, another is a Suzuki Wagon R and the third is a Renault Wind. It was the last of these which came to my rescue on Sunday morning, for a black example was being ignominiously carried on the back of a breakdown truck in front of me. A successful journey through the alphabet always bodes well for a positive day and a good performance, so I felt very satisfied when I finally ticked off the final Z as I overtook a Vauxhall Zafira.

Into Derbyshire the heavens opened and the journey became a lot less fun, for the road surface was flooded and there was a very real danger of aquaplaning on the slick surface. I had plenty of time in hand, so took things very cautiously. I was soon through the worst of the weather and as I passed through Yorkshire and on towards Tyneside, the skies were blue and the spring colours glorious. I arrived in South Shields at around 12 and having bought a sandwich from a local supermarket I pulled my van onto the pavement outside the impressive circular building that was designed to represent an open book’s pages being flicked through, and called my contact at The Word, Pauline Martin.

In no time a door opened and together we unloaded my van. The room in which I perform is on the very top floor, so we filled one of the lifts with the equipment and made our way up.

As I set the stage I realised that I had actually brought too much furniture – all of those hours rehearsing Great Expectations had convinced me that I needed a table and a few other props, which in fact would remain redundant for another six days.

When the set was ready and I had changed into my costume it was time to let the audience in. They are a loyal and extremely friendly bunch in the North East, and I was able to circulate and chat as they took their seats. Pauline was at the door welcoming them all with a smile, but also with a stern warning – ‘turn your phone OFF or I shall be rugby tackling you at 3 o’clock!’ This may seem a somewhat severe greeting, but it was with good reason, for at the aforementioned time (when I would be nearing the end of my show) the British government was due to test its National Emergency Alarm which involved a screeching, piercing warning which eventually will be used to alert the population to fire, flood and terrorist attacks. Setting a phone to silent would not be enough, they had to be turned off completely, hence Pauline’s threats.

2pm ticked round and Pauline said a few words of welcome before I took to the stage. The beginning of Nickleby features me as me, explaining why I have chosen this particular novel to perform, and I explain the circumstances that took me from schoolboy Dickens-hater, to an evangelistic portrayer of his words. Many of you may know that the Royal Shakespeare Company’s amazing adaptation of NickNick had a profound effect on me. Fortunately for those of you who don’t know the story, it will be related in full in my new book ‘Gerald Dickens: My Life On The Road With A Christmas Carol’ to be published later this year.

Once the preamble was finished I launched into the story itself and assumed the multiple characters of various Nickleby’s, most particularly young Nicholas and his evil uncle Ralph, the inhabitants of Dotheboy’s Hall including Mr and Mrs Squeers and their daughter Fanny, the poor drudge Smike, and the theatrical troupe belonging to the ebullient Mr Vincent Crummles. I loved every second of the performance and it was a pleasure to be on stage again, working hard. As I began the very final scene, which is quite tender and quiet, of course one phone had been left on and sure enough the Emergency Alarm sounded, fortunately Pauline did not carry out her rugby tackling threat. Actually the alarm wasn’t too loud, and didn’t last too long. I brought the story to a close and to me surprise and delight the audience stood as they applauded me. I took a few bows, and then when the clapping subsided I hosted a short Q&A session. I had a bet with myself about what the first question would be, and I won: ‘What do you think of the new television version of Great Expectations?’ I will not go into my answer here, maybe that is for another blog post, but the show has certainly excited some controversy among the various online Dickens communities, with its violent, gritty, foul-mouthed and sadistic plotlines.

The questions moved on to the RSC’s production of Nickleby, and what is my favourite novel, and all too soon it was time to wind up. I stood in the room and chatted more with the audience, and sold a few items of merchandise, until the room was empty and it was time to load all of the props back into the lift, retrieve my van and bid farewell to Pauline and The Word for a few more months (I will be back there in November with A Christmas Carol.)

I had decided to stay in the heart of the city of Newcastle that night, actually in the hotel I use when I am performing at The Lit and Phil, so I would be in familiar surroundings. As I drove away from South Shields the sports radio station that I had been listening to that morning was now broadcasting the final minutes of Newcastle United against Tottenham Hotspur, being played in Newcastle – the score was 6-1 to the home team, it was going to be a lively night next to the Tyne! Sure enough as I arrived, the streets were awash with fans in their black and white striped shirts in good voice, while I am sure any remaining Spurs fans were slinking quietly back south.

I parked near to the hotel, checked in and then dozed on and off for the rest of the afternoon, until it was time for dinner. The hotel has a small bar in the lobby, mainly for breakfast, but they serve a small dinner menu too, so I sat at a table, the only diner, and ordered a steak pie and mash, It seemed to take an age to prepare and arrive, which seeing I was their only customer seemed strange, but in time the door opened and a lady appeared holding a plate. She peered all around the room until eventually her eye fell on me, ‘Is this for you?’ she asked, somewhat unnecessarily, I replied in the affirmative, and she placed the plate in front of me. When I had finished, I decided to order some dessert, and sure enough a little while later the door opened and the lady stood, bowl in hand, peering around the room again, until her eye once more fell on me. I waited. ‘Is this for you?’ she asked.

Early the next morning I started my long journey home to Oxfordshire. I always enjoy being in the North East, and this trip had been as fun and as successful as my previous ones.

I would like to finish by congratulating my cousin Guy, who not only completed the London Marathon, but completely BLITZED it. His time was 3 hours 53.15 and his split times were all under 9 minute miles – his consistency was remarkable, and this with a body undergoing the rigours of fortnightly chemotherapy. As I write he has raised nearly £4,000 for Macmillan Cancer Support, but I know he would like to raise more, so if anyone would like to support and congratulate my amazing nephew, then here is his JustGiving link:

Next Saturday I will be performing Great Expectations, and I will update you with how things go with that!

As If By Magic……


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When I was a child, in the years long before wall-to-wall kids TV and when there were only 3 channels to chose from, I loved a simple animated programme called Mr Benn. At this point many of my English readers will be smiling fondly and nodding their heads as their minds go back to the early 1970s, whilst my American readers will either be skipping forward to a part of this post that means something to them, or hurriedly Googling ‘Mr Benn’ to see where this is leading; let me help you out. Mr Benn was a respectable gentleman who lived at number 52 Festive Road. He wore a black suit and a bowler hat and presumably was employed in the Civil Service. At the beginning of each episode Mr Benn would walk to a fancy dress shop where a shopkeeper appeared, as if by magic. Mr Benn would choose a costume (a knight, a chef, a caveman, a pirate among many others), and would make his way to the changing room where he would take off his bowler hat, put it on the ground and then magically his suit would disappear to be replaced by the costume. a green door at the back of the changing room stood open and Mr Benn would walk through and into an adventure. It was simple stuff, lasting only five minutes, but I liked it!

Over the Easter weekend I felt a bit like Mr Benn as I put on my Victorian costume for the first time in months, because it felt as if I was returning to an adventure that had happened long ago. The start of 2023 was not easy thanks to various complications stemming from the bout of Covid that I caught during my American tour. I had noticed that one of my eyes had drooped and the pupil in it had shrunk to a much smaller size than its counterpart. I took myself to my doctor who immediately diagnosed Horner’s Syndrome, and I was booked in to hospital with great haste to find the origins of this condition. Horner’s Syndrome in itself is not serious or dangerous, but it is cause by damage to the nerves which run from the brain stem down to your neck and then back to the eye (a rather clumsy piece of engineering, it seems to me!) Damage to those nerves can be caused by all sorts of things, some of which are potentially very serious indeed. I was given a great many tests: blood tests, CT scans, MRI scans and blood pressure tests, and it was the last two that threw up the answer – thanks to Covid, the doctor thought, my blood pressure had soared to catastrophic levels, so much so that one of the arteries in my neck had split causing a small blood clot which fortunately didn’t travel north! The course of treatment was a prescription of blood pressure medication and very regular checks to keep an eye on things.

Fortunately, three months on, my blood pressure is back to the levels it should be, and I am feeling healthy and ready to tackle another year, a year which will mark my 30th anniversary of performing A Christmas Carol.

So, on Good Friday I was channelling my inner Mr Benn for my costume seemed to magically become part of me again and I was ready to go. The weekend commitment was not actually a show, but three days of appearances at our local historical railway museum, the Dicot Railway Centre which is situated only a few miles from our home. When I was writing my book about the Staplehurst rail crash I was fortunate enough to use the centre for some research, including actually driving a steam locomotive. During the holiday weekend the centre were staging a Victorian event, and it seemed like a great opportunity to sell some books and sign some copies.

I arrived at 10.30 on Friday morning, gently making my way past the long queue of public waiting to buy their tickets, as if my top hat were a special pass, and, as I was a little early, I decided to take a ride on the steam train which was waiting at the platform. I sat in a compartment and within a few minutes the whistle blew, the carriages shuddered and we were off. I was clutching a copy of ‘Dickens and Staplehurst: A Biography of a Rail Crash’ and once again wondered how Charles Dickens must have felt as the train left Folkestone on the 9 June 1865. I didn’t realise it at the time, but the locomotive that pulled my train did in fact have a connection to Staplehurst, but more of that later.

The first train ride took me the length of the centre, and then I boarded another train which took me back to the little square where the museum, cafe and book shop are situated, and which would be my home for the next few days. I was greeted by Sarah, the events manager at Didcot, who had planned this whole idea. As well as selling my books (of which she had bought a huge stock), Sarah had also produced a special edition beer which had been brewed to her own recipe by the Hook Norton Brewery Company, which still brews in the traditional ways, even having the original steam engine which used to power the brewery (indeed, they still fire the engine up once a month). Sarah had christened her beer ‘Off The Rails’ and apparently it had slight notes of orange to give a fresh citrus flavour for the summer months. Some suggested that this ale had a slight taste of marmalade, which may be very suitable for a forthcoming event when the centre is running ‘A Day With Paddington’. So, outside the shop, one end of the table was piled high with my books, and the other with bottles of beer and a tray of little plastic cups filled with free samples for visitors to taste – you can guess which end of the counter was more popular!

The Didcot Railway Centre is an amazing and vibrant place – it is very much a working museum with the focus very much on renovation and restoration. Some historical railways offer long stretches of line, giving passengers plenty of time to experience the age of steam and even dine on board, but that is as far as the experience goes. Other Rail museums, such as The National Rail Museum in York, have huge sheds with static displays, showing some of the great locomotives of the past in all their glory, but they do not run. All have sheds where restoration and repair work are carried out, but it is rare that you are able to see that. Didcot has all of this and more – the site is a breathing piece of history, the smell of coal and oil and grease and polish pervades the great engine shed (itself a grade 2 listed building dating back to the 1930s) as volunteers go about their daily tasks, and they all do it with a passion and a pride that is rarely seen in the modern world. This is no sterile visitor attraction, it is a visceral experience.

The books sold well throughout the weekend, and were especially popular with the many enthusiasts who came to the event clutching their cameras. I chatted at length to people who had maybe heard of the story and in some cases researched it for themselves. In one case a young man had actually adapted his own version of The Signalman to be performed and, by chance, he works in Westminster Abbey where Charles is buried in Poet’s Corner.

During quieter moments I took the opportunity to walk around the site, marvelling at the engines and watching the Easter Bunny reward the younger visitors with chocolate eggs. It was on one such sojourn that I ran into the team from The Furness Trust who had brought a special guest locomotive to the party.

Furness No 20 is the oldest running standard gauge locomotive in the country, having been built in 1863, and is a beautiful machine to behold, gleaming in her rust-coloured paintwork and highly-polished brass trimmings around the cab. Furness 20 was the engine that pulled my morning train on Friday, and the team mentioned that she had a special connection to the Charles Dickens story. Ten years ago the actor Ralph Fiennes directed and acted in ‘The Invisible Woman’, which is the story of Charles Dickens’ relationship with Ellen Ternan. Those of you who have read my book (and if not, why not?) will know that Ellen was on the train when it crashed just outside the town of Staplehurst, so the accident was featured in the movie, and it was Furness No 20 that pulled the train in those scenes (being the only operative locomotive of the correct age). Whilst I was chatting to the driver, a fellow with splendid muttonchop whiskers, he told me that during the filming of the aftermath of the crash, when he was attending to a lady flung from the wreck, he whispered to her ‘You know what? You should’ve got an earlier train!’ Fiennes, in his Dickens persona, was nearby and apparently hissed ‘this is supposed to be serious!’

On the last day of the event I happened to be in the staff and volunteers mess having a bite of lunch, having a conversation with Kevin Dare who had been my teacher in all things railway during the research for the book. It turned out that Kevin was on driving duty that day and invited me to join him on the footplate of Furness 20, an opportunity I leapt at! The appropriate permissions were granted and the formal slip of paper signed and I found myself in the cramped open cab of the train, with the furnace glowing and all the pressure gauges reading as they should. Kevin let me sound the whistle before he carefully opened the regulator, released the brakes, and the sheer power of steam began to turn the wheels and we were off. What a joy, what a privilege.

The weather on Monday was not as kind as it had been over the rest of the weekend, meaning that visitor numbers were lower, so Sarah and I walked around the whole complex looking for possible venues for a performance of ‘The Signalman’ later in the year. There are various sheds that would work, but the most obvious setting to me was in the open air, outside a genuine signal box. Sarah suggested that if I performed there she would bring a locomotive in behind, with steam and smoke creating a wonderful atmosphere at dusk. We do not have a date set as yet, but do watch this space, for it promises to be an exciting prospect.

I was sad to say my final goodbye to all at Didcot for I had really felt like a member of the team during the weekend, and I look forward to co-operating with them all more very soon.

In Mr Benn, the adventure over, the shopkeeper appears again, as if by magic, and leads our hero back through a door where he finds himself in the changing room again. Mr Benn changes back into his suit and picks up his bowler hat once more and walks back into the shop to hand the costume back. The shopkeeper gives Mr Benn a souvenir of the adventure, and in my case that was a copy of the stylish new guidebook which has just been produced.

With happy memories of a fun weekend I returned to ‘Festive Road’ and returned to my normal life.

Pulling a Cracker Alone, and a Proposal of Marriage


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Alderley Edge

On Saturday morning, I was due to leave Liverpool,. although I would be staying in the North West. The first thing to do was to retrieve my furniture and props from St George’s Hall, which I had to do before 10. I had breakfast, this time in the comfort of the Shankly without needing to cross the road from red to blue, and retrieved my car from the parking garage and drove up to the hall, having been admitted through the security barrier which was monitored round the clock. I was told to drive up a curb and onto the pavement, which was as slick as an ice rink, as a result of the heavy rain of the day and the sub-zero temperatures of the night. The car simply slid over the paving, and for a moment I thought that I would take the helter-skelter and the huge ferris wheel out, but actually my Renault slithered into a perfect position by the door, as if I were an expert stunt driver. All of my props and costume were waiting by the door, so it hardly took any time to load, but while I was lifting the heavy chair into the car, my feet slipped on the ice, and in an effort not to fall I could feel my back twist and I knew instantly that I had strained a muscle, just to add to my current physical woes!

I returned to the hotel and relaxed until my check-out time of 11, and then drove into the beautiful county of Cheshire, towards the town of Alderley Edge, where I would be performing that evening. Alderley Edge is not too far from Manchester, and is known for being the home of many of the Premier League’s top footballers, meaning that the property prices in the town are some of the highest in the country. Indeed, as I drove across the bridge into the main street one of the first cars I saw casually parked by the curbside was a yellow Ferrari, and there were copious Aston Martins and other luxury brands on display, as if they were just regular run-arounds. I parked and strolled up and down the street, looking into the windows of high-end restaurants and boutiques with no price labels, but it was raining heavily by now and I wasn’t really in the mood for walking. As I reached the upper end of the street I noticed a sign to The Alderley Edge Hotel where I was due to stay, so walked up the drive and into the stylish reception area, where I asked if there was any possibility of an early check in, and I was told that yes, my room was indeed ready! I walked back into town, retrieved my car and drove back to the hotel, and in ten minutes or so was seated in the restaurant ready for lunch.

Being sat a single table can be a lonely experience, but of course one becomes used to it when on tour, but to be sat at a table laid for a Christmas celebration with just one Christmas Cracker made it seem even more so!

Around me were groups of people in Christmas jumpers and sparkly dresses, laughing and exchanging gifts. I ordered a large plate of fish and chips, and as I waited, another single gentleman was shown in, and the staff called him by name, asking him not to go to his usual table, as that was reserved for another party. He didn’t look at a menu, just ordered what he wanted, and it was obvious that he was a permanent resident at The Alderley Edge, and the character of ‘The Major’ from Fawlty Towers came to mine. Actually the hotel itself was not dissimilar, being an elegant old house situated up a short driveway. I should say, however, that is where the similarity ended, for the service and staff were impeccable!

I ate my lunch, and took my cracker to my room, where I pulled it. My treat was a pink hair bobble, and my joke was ‘What do vampires sing on New Year’s Eve? Old Fangs Syne’. I didn’t put the paper hat on.

I had a couple of hours before I had to be at the venue, so rested and snoozed, before showering to wake myself up again. The Festival Hall was only a couple of minutes’ drive away, and I was soon pulling up outside. The hall was originally built in the 1920s, but has recently been renovated, and was very smart and clean. It had a plastered barrel roof, which gave away its age, but everything else looked very up to date. I was greeted by Colin, who was one of the hall managers, and who had agreed to run my sound effects for me. There was no sound desk available, but we worked out that if we plugged my laptop into the amplifier (hidden away in the kitchen), we could make it work. I went through the script with him, and was confident that everything would be OK. The stage was at one end of the room and although very wide, was quite narrow, it had a black cloth behind (actually a star cloth with lots of tiny lights sewn in, but we decided not to use that effect).

When I had set everything up I chatted with Colin and the other staff at the hall, until Lynne and Jacqui arrived too. The show was another that Lynne was producing and she had booked the hall at Alderley Edge. Even as we chatted, some audience members began to arrive, so I went to my dressing room, and the bar sprang into action!

To be honest, the effort and expenditure of adrenaline from two days in St George’s Hall was taking its toll, and I felt very weary. The cough had returned, and I was feeling very weak, but I could hear the audience arriving, could hear the usual sense of excitement, and gave myself a good talking to: the audience in the Alderley edge had invested just as much (I mean from the point of view of choosing to spend their evening at my show), as those in the heart of Liverpool, and therefore deserved just as much effort and commitment from me. The show was due to start at 7, but as the audience arrived Lynne realised that one of the promotional fliers was printed with 7.30 instead, meaning that the lovely early start time was delayed. We had decided to go for a 7.15 start, assuming that people expecting a 7.30 start would probably be arriving then, but they were still entering as the half-hour passed. At last Lynne welcomed everyone and I made my way through the audience and up onto the stage. I gave the show my all, but the annoying coughs, which have been a constant companion since Lewes, Delaware, continued to interrupt the flow., However, the audience enjoyed the evening and gave me a lovely ovation at the end.

Having sold out all of the merchandise at St George’s Hall, there was no formal signing session, but a few people wanted to say thank you, and pose for photographs with me afterwards, so we gathered around the sparkling Christmas Tree next to the stage until everyone was happy, and I could change and start to pack up. I thanked Colin for his efforts with the sound (he had stood in the open door of the kitchen following the script, and as the cue approached had withdrawn back to the laptop – every cue came in perfectly on time), and drove back to the hotel where Lynne, Jacqui and I sat in the bar and drank a toast to the success of our events over the past three days.

Highclere Castle

I left Alderley Edge as soon as I had finished breakfast on Sunday morning, and was on the road by 8.45. I felt exhausted and after an hour’s driving I needed to stop at a service station, drink coffee, and get some fresh air, before continuing home, where I arrived at lunchtime. It was so good to see Liz and the girls again, but my time at the hose was all too short, for that afternoon I was due to be at the amazing Highclere Castle. The weather was awful as I drove the 40 minutes or so, and as I arrived some of the audience were already gathering and my car had to be escorted at walking pace up the drive, for visitors were making their way towards the house. The timetable stated that the doors would be opened at 4.30, but folk were welcome to explore the grounds before that – there was not much exploring going on.

As I drove across the expanse of gravel in front of the main door, where countless lovely old cars have swept in during the various seasons of Downton Abbey, a voice called out from beneath an umbrella: ‘Hey Mr Dickens! This is a LONG WAY from Pigeon Forge!!’ I was astounded, for Pigeon Forge is a tourist town in Tennessee where I performed for a number of happy years in a very small hotel, and here were two audience members from those days who had made the journey to England, building their Christmas trip to around their plans to watch me perform at Highclere.

Inside the castle the preparations were being made for the evening events, and I arranged my set on the small stage which is dwarfed by the magnificent central saloon of the castle. Lord and Lady Carnarvon were there, as was Charlotte, who a few years ago drew the short straw of operating my sound effects. ‘Is the script the same? Nothing new?’ she nervously asked, and I reassured her that nothing had changed, and then I remembered the new voice over that I had recorded in Liverpool for the start of the second act. ‘There is just one thing,,,,,’

The audience were gathering at the door, deciding that a stroll in the grounds during a rainstorm was not such fun, and were keen to take their seats. I disappeared off to one of the private rooms in the castle, the studio, and changed ready for the evening ahead.

At 5 o’clock I went to the top of the grand staircase and looked down n the audience below, which included our good friends Anthony and Andrea, who we had invited to the show, but sadly not Liz, who had tested positive for Covid a few days earlier, and was miserably at home. This was very sad for us both, as the Highclere performance is traditionally the only one on tour that Liz can get to, being close to home,and having been apart for so long it is a treat of an evening that we both look forward to.

Lady Carnarvon welcomed the gests, and then passed the castle over to me for the next couple of hours. I made my slow walk down the staircase, channelling my inner Hugh Bonneville, through the audience and onto the stage. As with all recent shows, I got though with a few coughs, but managed to tell the story well, and the audience lapped it up – laughed, clapped and sobbed a little. When both acts were over I quickly changed, and made my way to the marquee in one of the courtyards, to join Anthony and Andrea for dinner. The other guests took their seats around us, but respected our privacy generously. When we had finished and I stood to leave, a man, sat at a table with his companion, approached me and aske if I wouldn’t mind having a picture taken, and I of course agreed. As we posed, the couple happily told me that he had proposed during the interval, and that they were now engaged to be married! We chatted for a while, and soon other audience members were asking for pictures, and wanting to chat. It was a very nice and relaxed way to finish the evening. It was still raining hard when I left, and drove home, and I was very glad to be back on our sofa, with Liz.

the following evening, Monday, was petty much a repeat of Sunday, albeit without a proposal of marriage. Before the show Lady Carnarvon and I recorded a short video for TicToc (she is quite the social media expert),and chatted about A Christmas Carol, the season and my performances. The Monday audience were lively and fun, as the Sunday one had been, and I revelled once more beneath the high stone walls of the magnificent home. The shows a Highclere Castle have very much become a traditional part of my tour, and I love performing there. Hopefully next year we will add an extra night to the run.

And so, my 2022 tour was reaching its final stages, and I will tell you about the closing days in my next post.

Friday in Liverpool


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My second day in Liverpool began when I woke at 8.15, which is quite unheard of for me. Possible reasons for my late arrival to Friday were supremely effective heavy-draped curtains in my room, which created a complete blackout, and my body’s need to keep rebuilding strength and stamina. I have been staying at The Shankly Hotel for many years, mainly because of its proximity to St George’s Hall (in fact, as I drew the curtains I had a fine view of the great old Palladian building), and it is a hotel that I feel comfortable in. It has changed a little over the years, for when I first stayed it was very much a Liverpool Football Club supporter’s heaven – with the lobby and every room dedicated to the life and career of one of LFC’s finest managers, Bill Shankly. You would fall asleep looking up at one of his inspirational quotes, and the material padding on the room doors were of the same texture as a football. In recent years, though, the hotel has embraced the party vibe of the city, and the tone has changed from dugout to dancefloor. I was staying on the 5th floor, the corridor was painted a vibrant pink, and all of the rooms had not only numbers, but names too, names to make a mother blush: Sin, Adam (Eve was demurely next door), Temptation and my own room, Desire. Desire contained beds for 4 and a jacuzzi hot tub for the same number. I imagine that I am one of the quieter guests on the fifth floor……

The Shankly did not have chefs in on a Friday morning, so breakfast was being served in the sister hotel across the street – The Dixie Dean. Liverpool is a city divided from a footballing point of view, with two tribes supporting either the reds of LFC or the blues of Everton. I imagine that the owner of The Shankly realised that he was reducing his possible local clientele by half, so opened a second hotel named in honour of one of the greats of Everton. I made my way across the street and had a most enjoyable breakfast, feeling slightly traitorous, and then returned to my room, where I rested for a long while. I didn’t need to be back at St George’s Hall until 1pm, so had plenty of time. At around 11 I walked into the city and joined the throngs of Christmas shoppers bustling here and there through the great Liverpool1 shopping complex. Liverpool always makes me feel very festive and Christmassy, for there is a wonderful atmosphere on the streets. While I walked my phone ran out of battery, for I had left my charging lead in my dressing room at St George’s Hall, but I knew roughly what the time was. I returned to my hotel room, collected some fresh shirts, and then walked up to the hall ready for my matinee performance. I had forgotten, however, that to be granted access to St George’s I needed to call the duty manager, and my phone was inactive. I stood outside the door, and knocked and banged at the door, to no avail. Another young man stood at the door next to me, and I guessed he was an audience member arriving early, for his T shirt was emblazoned with the message ‘Scrooge and Marley. Accountants.’ After a while I saw a member of the St George’s Hall Staff walking by, and asked him if he could alert the manager to my presence, which he kindly did.

I said hello to everyone who were setting up the bar, and my merchandise table, and made my way up to the dressing room, and onto stage where Taz and I did a quick sound check to make sure that everything was still functioning correctly, and I made sure that everything was as it should be on the stage, before shutting myself into dressing room, drinking lots of water, and just relaxng.

The afternoon show was due to start at 2.30 and as usual the audience would be entertained by a choir, before I took to the stage. Usually the choir is one of a few very fine community choirs from Liverpool or The Wirral peninsula, but on Friday both the audience and I were in for a special treat, for Lynne had arranged for students from the West Kirby Grammar School to sing on the stage. From my dressing room I could hear the choir gathering, and assuming that it was one of the usual troupes, I opened the door to say hello, and was amazed to find 30 or so teenagers, anxiously talking, waiting to walk into the bright stage lights. We chatted until it was time for them to perform, and I wished them all good luck and told then to enjoy themselves, and in turn many told me to ‘break a leg’. When they were on stage I went up to the gallery and slipped in the door to watch them sing their first two songs, and they performed beautifully. I always like to watch the choirs from up on the gallery, for two reasons. One, it gives me the opportunity to listen to amazing singing in a setting designed purely to enhance it, and second, it gives me an opportunity to take a look at the audience, and judge what sort of performance we are about to share.

After the girls had completed their second piece, I slipped back down to the wing space, put my scarf and top hat on and waited to begin. As the choir came off stage I congratulated them, and then turned my thoughts to my own performance. The energy that I always get from the Concert Room inspired me, and the performance was a really good one, with the inevitable few coughs along the way. The audience were very good, and the ovation at the end was a typically loud Liverpool stomp! Having left the stage I changed slowly into a fresh costume, before going down to the lobby to sign copies of my book (which we sold out of) and chat to excited and bubbling audience members, one of who was the young gentleman whose T shirt I had complimented on the pavement a couple of hours before. It turns out that he is working on the script for a new musical version of A Christmas Carol, and we talked about my adaptation, and the direction he is taking his version in, that being darker more intense than the norm.

When the signing session as finished, I went back to The Shankly, and rested for a while, before showering and walking back to the Hall for the evening show, stopping to buy a large freshly cooked Bratwurst from the Christmas market which was crowded and noisy.

In the dressing room, I finished my hot dog, and then got into costume ready for a 7.30 start. The choir was one of the regular one,ms and for this show the choir leader had asked me if I minded them performing a medley from The Muppets Christmas Carol, I wouldn’t think it in any way disrespectful? It was thoughtful and kind of her to ask, and of course I said yes, go for it!

The evening audience were not as demonstrative as some of the other St George’s Hall groups, but they were intense, listening, following. There was no rustling or fidgeting, and in the pauses the atmosphere in the hall was heavy. The applause at the end of the first act was very loud, as was the applause when I returned to the stage at the start of act 2, and the final explosion of applause at the end of the show was amazing, filling me with a huge sense of reward and satisfaction.

Despite my physical limitations, I had given three very strong performances in Liverpool, in ‘the most perfect hall in the world

Two Standing Ovations


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After a few days at home, during which the aftermath of my dose of Covid continued to drain me of energy, as well as lingering in the form of a heavy cold and nasty cough, it was all too soon time to get on the road again for the final UK leg of my 2022 A Christmas Carol tour. The time at home had been lovely, even though Liz and one of our daughters were also down with particularly heavy colds, but I had time to hang Christmas lights on the outside of the house, as well as on the tree, ready for us all to decorate when next I am at home.

On Thursday morning I packed the car with the props and costumes that I would need for three days in the North East and set off at around My destination was the city centre of Liverpool and three performances at what Charles Dickens called ‘The most perfect hall in the world’ – the gilded concert room at St George’s Hall.

My drive to Liverpool was an easy one, and the landscape was beautiful with the light dusting of icy snow on the fields glittering in the bright winter sunshine. Occasionally herds of sheep appeared, slightly cream-coloured against the pure white behind them. I arrived at around 2.30, and because the area around St George’s Hall is taken over by a huge Christmas fair, I had to ring ahead to be allowed access through a security barrier, so that I could get as close as possible to unload my car. The staff at the hall brought out a small trolley/cage, and we piled everything into it and rolled it up to door. Unfortunately, the journey was across cobbles and various articles fell off along the way, including one of my costumes which got caught beneath the trolley’s wheels and ended up very muddy and dusty.

Non of ‘my’ team where at the hall yet, so I placed all of the furniture on the stage, and hung my one pristine and one soiled costume in my dressing room, and then went to check in at my hotel – The Shankly, just a few minutes walk away. I had an hour or so in my room, during which time I made a restorative cup of Lemsip, and tried to relax as much as I could, for I really wasn’t feeling too great.

At around 4.30 I wrapped up against the cold winter’s night and walked back to St George’s Hall where the door was locked. I was joined on the pavement by a young man carrying a camera bag and tripod, and I guessed that this was Adam, who had been booked to make a short video promotional film of my show. Eventually, after much bell ringing and a couple of phone calls, we were let into the huge foyer. Lynne Hamilton, the producer and events manager who puts on my Liverpool shows was there and we hugged warmly. Lynne and I have been working together for many years and it was great to see her again. Of course she was worried about my state of health, both from a personal and professional viewpoint. I went up to the main hall where my sound engineer Taz was setting up. We have worked together before, and immediately he had some ideas about the show – introducing a few echoes here and there as ghosts came and went. For my part, I wanted to to record a new voiceover for the start of the second act, which up to now has opened with me reprising the lines of Jacob Marley -‘You will be haunted by three spirits. Expect the first tonight when the bell tolls one. Expect the second on the next night, at the same hour…..’ and then I would commence snoring, as if Scrooge had been asleep throughout the interval. Rather than me actually speaking those lines, it seemed better to have them recorded, so I set my laptop and microphone up on the stage, and after three takes had what I wanted. Taz and I did a sound check, and it was apparent that while my voice was quite strong, it was full of cold, so not as clear and pure as usual. There was nothing that could be done to change that, I just had to ensure that my performance was as good as I could make it.

Meanwhile, Adam was scouting out the venue to see how best we could film some parts of the show for his promo video. I got into costume, and performed various scenes, while he followed me around with his gimble-mounted camera. He was very pleased with the results, and was worried that it was going to be very difficult to edit all of the material down. For me, it was time to hibernate for a while and relax. I drank a lot of water, popped a few Fisherman’s Friends, and did as little as possible. Downstairs the audience were beginning to arrive, while I ran through a few lines – actually some new lines. Maybe a show when I was not feeling great was not the perfect time to introduce a change to the script, but a thought had come to me in America and I was keen to try it out. As Scrooge’s time with the Ghost of Christmas Past comes to an end he berates her for ‘torturing him’ and commands that she ‘remove him from this place’ and the spirit reminds him that ‘I told you that these are the shadows of things that have been. That they are what they are, do not blame me!’ It felt important that he is reminded of that fact, so this year’s new addition is that little exchange.

The show was due to start at 7.30, but there was a slightly odd precursor to the performance. As part of Adam’s filming he wanted to get some shots of a Liverpool standing ovation from my perspective, that is from the stage. So when all of the audience were gathered, Lynne told them she needed them to stand and cheer and clap, as if it were the end of the show. I watched on a small TV monitor from the wings as the crowd went crazy. Hands in the air, stamping of feet, whooping, shouting, cries of sheer delight and adulation filled the old hall – that has to be one of the best standing ovations that I have ever received, and I wasn’t even there to bow. Adam, looking very self conscious, recorded the whole thing.

When everyone had calmed down again, the choir, who had been entertaining the audience as they arrived in the lobby below, took to the stage and, using the acoustic of the Concert Room as an extra member, performed three exquisite pieces, all rapturously received.

And at last it was my turn. The danger is, when feeling below par, that I try too hard, and over-dramatise and over-emphasise everything, so I made sure I gave a well-paced, but not too theatrical performance. My voice wasn’t great, but my characters, movements and general stage presence was pretty good, and the audience seemed engaged with the unfolding story. My new line fitted in perfectly (although in my concentration on slipping it in, I did mess up one of the proceeding lines, but that passed by in a moment.) The round of applause at the interval was loud and long, and I could relax into the second half in the knowledge that all was OK.

The second act has all of the tom-foolery in it – The Cratchit’s at dinner, Topper, Old Joe and the like, and the atmosphere in the Hall became more and more joyful as we headed to the show’s conclusion, and sure enough, when I left the stage, the ovation was every bit as energetic and loud as the pretend one of a couple of hours before. I took my bows to each quarter and as always thought of my great great grandfather doing the same when he had stood on the same boards. It is always a very memorable and emotional time in Liverpool.

I quickly changed and went to the lobby where there was a line of people clutching copies of Dickens and Staplehurst and my DVDs. We chatted, and I signed until the foyer was empty, and then went upstairs to change once more, and headed back to my hotel, where the bar and restaurant was closed for the night. So, once again, Uber Eats got my custom and at just after 11 I had a pizza in my room.

It had been a successful day, despite my cold and cough, and the positivity of a St George’s crowd gave me the confidence to face the rest of the tour with relish.

The Final Day


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Sunday would be my last day in the USA for this year, and it has certainly been a tour like no other. I had a whole morning at The Ambler Inn, which started with breakfast in the bar. As I finished I was greeted by some audience members from the previous afternoon, and we chatted for a while about this, that and the possibility of my performing in Pittsburgh in the future. Actually, Maria and John were not complete strangers, as I had performed a video reading from The Pickwick Papers which was used in a Christmas variety show, and we had been in touch since then. It was a lovely chat, but they were driving on to Alabama, and I had a show to get ready for.

Back in my room I was playing around with some ideas for next year’s 30th anniversary tour, and found a site that created word clouds, so I entered all of the characters that I play in the show (including the dressing gown) and pressed the ‘enter’ button to see what came up. I don’t know what sort of merchandise I was thinking with this idea – a tote bag maybe, or perhaps a fiendish jigsaw. Possibly, probably, nothing, but it was fun to do for an hour or so.

At 11 o’clock I checked out of the hotel and a few minutes later arrived at Byers’ Choice, where I found a parking slot right by the door. I took my large suitcase in, for after the show I would need to pack it with my top hat, cane and various other things ready to fly home. In fact I had plenty of time, so I unpacked my entire case for the first time since I touched down in Boston. Unpacked, so I could pack again.

I went to the hall, checked in with David, and discussed some changes in the lighting plot, brought about to my ‘repositioning’ of Scrooge’s Grave (I had previously played it in the centre of the stage, but now it is stage right, but had forgot to mention that fact the day before!). We also did a quick sound check, and then I went back my room, so that audience members, who were standing in the pouring rain, could be let in. I busied myself with sewing on the button, that had fallen off on Saturday and then got into costume and relaxed as best I could, before returning to the hall at 1.20 (the show starting on the half hour). It was another very full house, and another choir was producing beautiful harmonies to entertain them. Soon Bob gave me the sign, and began the process that would lead to the show itself, that being congratulating the choir, taking their good luck wishes, and then slipping into the large room when David had faded the house lights, and Bob was making his introductory remarks. In no time I was back on the stage and starting the script once again.

I had a big fright early on, for as I placed my cane, which becomes an important symbol later in the script, at the bottom of the hat rack it slipped, and was left precariously laying with its handle against the brass stand, the other end hanging over the back edge of the stage, the slightest jolt would dislodge it and send it falling down irretrievably to the floor below, which would not only leave Mr Scrooge without a knocker, but Tiny Tim without a crutch also. I trod VERY carefully in that quarter of the stage, until Scrooge left his office and I could thankfully rescue it.

The rest of the show went well, although my voice and breath control was much the same as it had been on the two previous days. I did get a round of applause for Fezziwig’s dance (if truth be told, I complete milked a round of applause, pretty well refusing to carry on until the hesitant clap from a person on the stage left side grew to encompass the whole audience!) It was another fun show, and the audience joined in more and more as we went on, and It was a good performance to bring the tour to an end with.

Once again Bob hosted a Q&A, although a lot of the audience rose to leave, probably wanting to get on the road as soon as possible,as the weather was closing in. Those that did remain listened attentively, as I spoke about how and why Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol, had I heard any stories about him through the family, and who is my favourite Formula One driver – somebody reads my blog regularly, you know who you are!

Bob brought the session to a close, I took my final bow, and left the stage. Back in the conference room I changed from costume into normal clothes, stuffed socks into my top hat and wrapped the scarf around it, before carefully packing my suitcase, and roller bag, ready for the flight back to England. When everything that needed to be was in my bags I went back to the theatre which was rapidly being changed back into a manufacturing facility, and said my goodbye and thanks to David, Jeff and Bob and Pam. The Byers family are always so generous to me, and on this year’s fragmented tour they have been even more so – reassuring me that everything would be OK, cautioning me not to come back too soon or too hard, just being good and kind friends.

Actually this wasn’t quite my final goodbye, for back with my cases I realised that I didn’t have my car key! I unpacked all three bags with no joy, and then remembered that I had it in my hand when I took the microphone back to David. I went back to the sound table and sure enough there was the key, on top of the mic pack. I said more goodbyes, and finally left Byers’ Choice.

The drive to Newark airport was through thick mist and heavy rain, meaning that on many occasions I couldn’t see lane markings, and had to make my way gingerly through intersections. As I approached the environs of the airport I could see that it was immensely busy, and I was glad that I had time in hand. At the Hertz garage I bade farewell to the Santa Fe, although I hadn’t spent as much time driving hither and thither as I had hoped to, it had been a faithful companion, even it did try to take over driving duties.

I was right, the terminal was very busy, and I stood for an age in the security line, before having my roller bag pulled aside for further inspection. It was with horror that I realised almost straight away that I had failed to empty my water flask following the show. and the humourless TSA officer firmly told me that I could either go back to check-in and check the bag, and start the process all over again, or the flask would be thrown away. I had no desire to go back to square one and stand in security all over again, so reluctantly let the flask become a victim of the tour.

I was very hungry by this time, not having had anything to eat since breakfast, so I found a restaurant in the terminal and had a burger and a creamy meringue desert, before going to Gate 102, where I now sit. In my eyeline is the jet bridge over which I will walk, but at the moment it is not attached to a plane, there being no plane to attach it to – Considering we should have boarded forty minutes ago it seems likely that we will be late.

Update – yes we will be late We have all been moved to another gate, where there is no plane either! Am announcement has just been made, telling us that, ‘We are waiting for the aircraft to be towed to our gate – it IS on the ground….’ Well, that’s good to know, for it would be a hell of a job towing it, if it wasn’t!

So, this year’s tour was of course dominated by the six days I had to spend in isolation, which was a real shock not only physically, but emotionally as well There was the irrational guilt of letting people down, there was the fear of the financial consequences, there was the sheer frustration of not being able to do what I was here to do. But, aside from that week, the shows I was able to perform all went very well, and the performance is in a very good place. The only new venue that I actually got to perform at was the theatre in Waynesboro, Virginia, and that was a spectacular evening, and I hope that the venue can find a regular place in future tours. Of the old favourites, we had sell-outs at all four performances at the Vaillancourts, and at both in Lenox. The return to Lewes was a triumph with around 550 attending, and both shows at Byers’ Choice were upward of 650. Looking at the full half of the glass, it has been a very successful trip, and has laid the foundations for next year’s great celebration, work on which has already started,

Thank you to all of those people who have made this happen, even if I was not able to get to your venue, and to the people without whom none of it would be possible: The audiences.

It is now 11pm, an hour after we should have flown and still there is no change – I will certainly sleep well when we finally get airborne.

Back to Byers


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Following my very satisfying success of Friday evening, I slept particularly badly that night, waking up with a severe headache and not being able to shift it. Unfortunately my bottle of pain relief pills were still in the car, and at about 4am I cold bear it no longer, so got up, threw some clothes on and went out into the cold early morning to fetch them. Sleep still didn’t come, as I tossed and turned in bed, knowing that this wouldn’t be such an easy day ahead. At around 7.30 Bob Byers sent me a message, checking how I was feeling and was I ready for another show? My answer was ‘I’d better be!’, although I was not altogether convinced at that point

Breakfast at The Inn was not served until 8, and as I had to be on the road at around 8.30 I went downstairs as early as I could and enjoyed a simple breakfast of fruits and pastries, before returning to my room to pack my cases and set off back to Byers’ Choice in Pennsylvania. The journey was about two and a half hours, and I couldn’t shift the headache throughout the whole trip, this being slightly scary for me, as I am not normally prone to headaches. As I got nearer to Philadelphia the traffic started to build up, and the final hour of the journey seemed to last forever. I finally pulled into the Byers’ Choice parking lot at around 11.30, at the same time as the first audience members were arriving too, although the show was not due to start until 1. I went into the offices and the first person I saw was Bob, who very genuinely asked how I was doing, it was the inquiry of a concerned friend, not of a business owner who had hundreds of people gathering to see a show. Bob and Pam have been so kind and supportive of me over the past week, and haven’t put any pressure on me to perform at all, that it made me all the more determined to do a good job for them now. I was feeling better for being there, and the headache, although still present, had diminished slightly.

I walked into the huge performance space and met up with Bob’s brother Jeff who also asked about my wellbeing, and if there was anything they could do for me, to make things more comfortable. Actually, between Bob and Jeff (and I believe it was Jeff’s suggestion), the decision had been made to cancel the second performance of the day, to give me an easier time. The hope was that some evening attendees may switch their tickets to one of the matinees instead, and certainly numbers had spiked over the previous two days, with both audiences swelling to around 650. I set the stage as I wanted it, and with David, our technical wizard, who knows the show better than I do, went through the various lighting and sound cues that we have developed over the years

When everything was ready, and with the audience waiting at the doors, I made my way to the company’s large conference room, which becomes my dressing/green room during my stay and I just kept myself to myself, quietly. At 12.30 I got into costume and at 12.55 went to the hall, where it looked as if a completely full house awaited me, in fact the Byers’ Choice staff were busily fetching more chairs, as people continued to arrive. Finally Bob gave the thumbs up that we were ready to go, and we made our way backstage (or into the shipping department of the business on any other day). The audience had been entertained by some beautiful carol signing by the choir from one of the local high schools. and as they came off stage Bob and I thanked them for performing so well.

And now it was my turn. Bob welcomed the audience, explained briefly about the circumstances of the last week and then introduced A Christmas Carol. Up onto the stage, over to Marley’s grave, a glance down, a ‘hurrumph!’ and then back to centre stage to begin the show. It was very similar to the night before, with a strong performance, slightly tarnished by the odd frailties of my voice. I purposefully gave Marley the rather breathless, weak voice that had been forced upon me at Lewes, and it was effective again. As the story unfolded, so I found myself needing to take little coughs here and there again, but most of the time I was able to give it large – and do my thing to the best of my abilities, to the great appreciation of the large crowd.

After the applause had died down and the people had sat down, Bob came up onto the stage to host another Q&A session. He began by mentioning that I was making a huge personal sacrifice to be here on stage, for at that very moment England were playing France in the Quarter Final of the World Cup. He went on to give me the tidings that France were currently 1-0 up. Bob read out questions which had been submitted by the audience as they arrived, most of which, on this occasion, were about Charles Dickens and his writing of A Christmas Carol, which was an interesting direction to go in. As I was answering the questions I realised that I had lost a button from my waistcoat, and took the opportunity of looking for it, so that I wouldn’t tread on it, as I paced around the floor.

When I finished the final question I took yet more bows and returned to the conference room to change. After a while I went back to the hall, which was empty now, and continued the search for my button, which I eventually found at centre stage right, un-trodden on and intact.

I replaced everything on the set, ready for the next day’s show, and then gathered my bag and prepared to leave. This was a strange moment, for usually I am just resting between shows, but as I walked to my car so were many audience members, and I was rewarded by lots of shouts of ‘great show!’ and the like. I left a happy man.

My hotel for the Byers’ Choice shows is The Joseph Ambler Inn, just a 15 minute drive, and in no time I was in my comfortable room, switching the TV on to see what was happening in the football. The screen flickered on just as England’s skipper, Harry Kane was standing over the ball, preparing to take a penalty kick to draw England level with France. There was a sense of inevitability about the scene, for England’s hopes over many years have been dashed by missed penalty kicks, and sure enough the ball went soaring over the goal and into the crowd behind.

Bob and Pam had kindly invited me out for an early supper, with their son George and his girlfriend Maura who is going to be working alongside Bob and Pam in preparing next year’s tour. We chatted about the parts of this year’s trip that had gone ahead, and what had been successful or otherwise, but mainly our thoughts turned to 2023 and the thirtieth anniversary tour, and what we could do to make it a real celebration of my performances of A Christmas Carol. We talked of merchandising, sponsorship ideas, increased media coverage, and the geographical nature of the tour itself. Although we are twelve months away, the time will fly and we need to start putting plans into place now.

We finished up our dinners, and Pam pointed out to Bob that I needed rest, and she was right. There would have been no way that I could have done a second show that day, and I was grateful that they had recognised the fact in time to cancel the evening performance.

I went back tom The Joseph Ambler Inn, and watched something on television, I don’t even remember what, and fell asleep quickly. On Sunday I have one more matinee to perform, and then I will drive directly to Newark airport and fly home, back to Liz and the girls.

At Last……


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Friday 9 December 2022

It had only been a week since my last performance, which was at the Dana Center in Manchester, NH; 8 days since I first began to sniffle and snuffle and cough a little, but to me, a particularly restless person when not acting, it seemed to have been much longer.

On Friday morning I was in the Byer’s family cabin, and definitely felt ready to go. During the days previously I had been still suffering from an annoying cough, which would have made performing very difficult, but on Friday morning it had mostly cleared, and I very much wanted to get back onto the road. I didn’t actually need to leave until 11.30, so I spent the morning doing a few little pieces of laundry (well, I was back on the road, after all), playing myself at pool in the basement games room, and watching the 2nd and 3rd episodes of the Harry and Meghan documentary, purely because I was fairly certain that I will be asked about it in the coming days!

I packed my bags, said goodbye to the cabin, which had been a vast improvement over the four walls of the Hilton Garden Inn, and set off. It was a beautiful morning, with the Delaware River a deep peaty black with sparking-white ripples on the surface to my left. Soon I was skirting Philadelphia, crossing the bridge in Wilmington and heading towards Dover (one of those State capitals that is useful to know for trivia quizzes). As I drove, I discovered a feature of my Hyundai that I had not noticed previously, and that its somewhat annoying habit of taking control. When the Cruise Control function is selected it purrs along until it notices a car in front, going a little more slowly, and then it reduces the cruising speed. Now, it doesn’t just switch off the cruise control, it re-calibrates it so still the car carries on at exactly the same speed as the vehicle in front, with no influence from my right foot. If I gently turn the steering wheel to the left, thereby putting the car into an empty lane, the onboard brain comes to the conclusion that there is nothing ahead now, so lets the car accelerate back up to the previously set speed, again with no input from me. In a way this is a remarkable piece of tech, but in another it is incredibly dangerous, because you actually stop concentrating on the act of driving, putting complete faith in the car.

At one point I saw advertising signs for the Winterthur estate, and a feeling of great sadness came over me, feeling very guilty for disappointing all of those audience members who had been planning to attend the shows there this week. I am very aware that guilt is a ridiculous emotion, for I couldn’t have done anything else – at the time of the Winterthur shows I wasn’t out of the recommended quarantine period, and really wasn’t physically up to performing, but still as an actor I felt so sorry for everyone who was effected.

I stopped in Dover for lunch, and then finished my journey towards Lewes, Delaware, a very pretty coastal town, where I performed for the first time last year. I am booked by the Lewes Public Library and in 21 performed at the branch, and was very well received. On the back of that success it was decided that the library would seek a larger venue, and settled on the auditorium at a local high school.

Before driving to the venue, I had an hour or so to spend at my hotel, The Inn at Canal Square which sits at the water’s edge and is quite delightful.

The rooms are large, and comfortable and reassuringly traditional. I discovered that the room not only boasted a Keurig coffee maker, but an actual china cup too, and I think that this is my new gold-standard: a room with a real cup, not a plastic-wrapped paper one. In fact before I came down with Covid I was actually looking for a cup to come along with me on the road!

I spent the time at the hotel watching the end of the Argentina v Netherlands quarter final, which went to penalties and was very exciting. Thoughts now turn to England’s quarter final against the old rivals France, which will actually be played when I am on stage on Saturday afternoon!

At 5 o’clock I left the hotel and took the very short drive to The Cape Henlopen High School, where the various staff and volunteers from the library were waiting for me, prime among them David White, who is responsible for bringing me to the town. We walked into the auditorium, and it was huge! spread out before me, with a large stage at the bottom.

Apparently the library had received over 700 registrations (the show was free to patrons, so not all of those would show), and this room would soon be packed with excited theatre-goers. I had a moment of fear, what if I were not recovered enough to command a hall this big, what if I didn’t have enough energy, what if my voice didn’t hold out? Fortunately, David immediately passed me over to Gary, the technical head of the auditorium, and the nerves went away, for I was back into work mode, discussing sound effects and cues etc. Once we had finished the technical meeting, Gary showed me to my dressing room, which was filled with costumes in preparation for a performance of The Nutcracker, the next day – I suddenly had so much choice of what to wear…..hmmmm, what should it be?

The large audience was now being admitted, and I stood behind the curtain listening to them gather. I love being backstage alone, looking at all of the mechanics of the space. This particular auditorium was blessed with fly space, in other words it is tall enough to lower various back drops down to change scenes (or ‘fly’ them in). All of the different bars which the scenery can be attached to are controlled by ropes, situated stage left and they look less like stage equipment, more like rigging on some great battleship. There is good reason for that, for many theatres, especially those in port cities, were staffed by sailors, who knew how ropes and pullies could be used.

This is also the reason why it is unlucky to whistle in a theatre, for sailors used whistles to communicate on deck, and used the same language in the theatres. If you should happen to stroll onto a stage, absent-mindedly whistling a merry tune, you may inadvertently be sending a message to open a trap-door, or drop a huge canvas backdrop. Safest not to whistle!

I was very pumped up and excited behind the scenes, running through tongue twisters, breathing exercises, running, jumping, stretching, pumping myself up. This was all of the pent up energy from a week of inactivity. I roamed the empty corridors of the school, which must echo with so much noise during the days, and eventually found myself at the door to the auditorium, from where I could look at the audience, as they waited for the show to begin. It was a packed hall, and I suddenly had a realisation, and had another wave of nerves – I had no evidence that I could make it through an entire performance in a hall this large. I felt good, I felt impatient and as I looked at the crowd, I felt excited. I was certain that I could do it.

Having returned to the stage I waited for David to arrive to make his announcement, and then for the music cue, and then I walked on.

Everything was as normal, everything was in place. The narrator’s voice and Scrooge’s voice were powerful, and the laughs came in the right places. I could relax, this was all going to be fine, and so it was, until Marley arrived. It was a strange thing, but all of the big, gravelly voices (the ones which you may imagine to be hard work,) were fine, while the gentle, slightly ethereal Marley caused me all sorts of trouble – I couldn’t get to the end of a sentence on a single breath and I was worried that this early in the show this may turn into a march larger problem. In the short term I could use the situation to my advantage, for surely a ghost’s voice would be somewhat breathless? I used the helplessness of not being able complete whole phrases to suggest that this being was in a very temporary state, and it worked well. Actually the problem didn’t grow too much, I struggled a little as the show went on, and had to take a few surreptitious coughs here and there, but on the whole the performance was strong, powerful and successful. The audience were amazing, and they were standing and shouting and whooping before I’d even left the stage.

The ovation when I returned to the stage was amazing, and I soaked it all up, very pleased that I had proved to myself that I could perform the entire show, and ecstatic to be back where I belonged. David had asked if we could have a question and answer session from the stage afterwards, and because it was such a large audience, the library had taken questions in advance. I talked about the various film versions, and also about some of the techniques used in the show to differentiate between characters, which,m as my interviewer pointed out, turned into a bit of a masterclass! The truth was that, having been off the stage for so long, I didn’t really want to leave it now!

When I returned to my dressing room I was excited and elated and very happy, but I also knew that this had been a major physical effort and had taken a lot out of me. I slowly changed, and collected up all of my things, before returning to the auditorium where David and his team were packing up. Everyone said how well the show had gone, and how much they had enjoyed it, while David, with a background in theatre, quietly asked if my voice was ok, as he had been aware that I’d been struggling a little at times.

I said my goodbyes to everyone and drove the short distance back to the hotel. The restaurants in Lewes were mostly closed, so I ordered another UberEats delivery which arrived within 30 minutes, and I ate it watching Back to the Future 2. It had been a long, and emotional day and soon I was ready to sleep.

But, I was back!