Continuing the tale of our trip to Ireland:

After the long day’s travel yesterday we, not surprisingly, sleep well but are still awake before anyone else.

We potter in the kitchen making coffee for me, tea for Liz, some eggs and toast for us both. Nicky appears and has some toast too as we all sit around the table and chat. We chat about home, about the show later today, about our holiday in Scotland last year when we all met up in Cromarty, Scotland, to celebrate my 50th birthday. We try to decide on a timetable for the day.

From my perspective I cannot afford to be very sociable today. I am due to perform Great Expectations tonight and haven’t done it for a while now, so I really need to spend a good deal of time this morning going over the lines, accents and moves. We decide between us that after showers etc, I shall head outside to my perfect rehearsal space, while Liz and Nicky spend the morning mooching.

Nicky’s house is a sprawling bungalow (with a couple of bedrooms and a bathroom built into the roof space), set in a large plot of land. A few years ago she created a hedged-off area with a gazebo, a rockery, a pond, some decking. In the summer it is a perfect place for a barbeque and a glass of chilled something or other. It is also a perfect place to run through lines uninterrupted. I discovered its suitability last year when I was busy preparing Doctor Marigold.

‘HOLD YOUR NOISE! KEEP STILL YOU LITTLE DEVIL OR I’LL CUT YOUR THROAT!!!’ I bellow. Hopefully there aren’t neighbours anywhere near or the Garda will be arriving at the door before we know it. I’ve been working on Great Ex for the last few days at home, so this is really just to tweak any little moments that are causing trouble and to consider how best to stage it in Kytelers Inn later this evening.

The lines seem to be well in place and the characters are working well, which is a good omen for the show, and I spend a little over two hours working away at them during which time I am treated to mercifully kind weather.

Back in the kitchen we three meet again and decide to go into town, which is only a ten minute drive. Nicky will go into Kyteler’s while Liz and I walk around Kilkenny and maybe have a bite of lunch before all reuniting at the bar to talk about lighting and staging.

Prior to our departures we are issued with strict instructions on how to open the automatic gate at the end of the drive and how to disable the house alarm. It is simple: the gate has a telephone number, call that and the gate will swing open. If that doesn’t work, then there is a separate keypad for which Nicky sends me a text with the number on it. Now, the house alarm – unlock the door using the key and simply type a different code-number into a keypad to disable the alarm. Easy.

Kilkenny is busy today. There are plenty of tourists ambling about, taking selfies on the bridge over the River Nore which flows beneath the soaring walls of the splendid castle. The main car park is in the heart of the town, right next to Kyteler’s Inn, so we say good bye to Nicky and head into town.

It is Arts Week. The Kilkenny Festival is a city-wide event embracing theatre, music, sculpture, strange inflatable installations and much more. There are lots of venues spread around and large posters listing all of the various events.

Frustratingly at the moment Kyteler’s Inn is not an official festival venue, so is not included in the festival marketing. It seems odd: Kyteler’s is in a wonderfully central spot and has a spectacular performance space. The various bars host musicians all the year round as well as a Bodhran ‘experience’ during which guests learn how to play the traditional Irish drum.

As far as theatre is concerned, I have successfully performed ‘Mr Dickens is Coming’, ‘Nicholas Nickleby’, ‘A Christmas Carol’ and ‘Doctor Marigold’ there, so the venue’s credentials as a theatrical space are proven. Earlier in the year Nicky had tried to apply to the festival committee to be included but without success. Hopefully, next year….

Liz and I amble up to The Kilkenny Design Centre, which is made up from the old stable blocks of the castle, surrounding a small quad. It comprises artists’ studios, shops and restaurants. In the quad at the moment is the set for an open air production of Much Ado About Nothing.

We decide to have a bite of lunch there and tuck into sandwiches and cake. Unfortunately I am becoming ever more uncommunicative as the day moves on. This is always the way on the day of a performance, and I don’t make sparkling company.

Inside my head I am thinking of ways of saying a certain line, or trying this move or that; calling on previous experiences at Kyteler’s to decide where to say the opening line; where to base Joe Gargery’s forge; where to put Satis House and whist my mind is thus whirring, I am not talking.

Once lunch is finished we walk back into the main road which separates the castle from the Design Centre. The road has a large promenade to one side which features exhibitions of paintings, the inevitable ‘human statue’ and a great many ambling people.

One bonus of the festival atmosphere is that the huge variety of arts encourages others to join in. Sat on a low wall are four teenagers: jeans, hoodies, bored sullen looks. They are like any teenagers in any town in the world, except for the fact that one has a euphonium, another a set of bongos and the other two a trombone and clarinet respectively. As we walk past, the ‘euphoniumist’ puts the mouthpiece to his lips. There is no sense of performance about him, it’s just as if he’s going to puff into it with a sense of curiosity. But now we hear the sound, low and rich and resonant, as he starts with the opening bars of Ben E King’s ‘Stand By Me’.

Just take a moment, think about it, imagine it, hear it.

As the Euphonium completes the opening riff and goes into a repeat so the bongos join in, adding a little texture and when they both complete the riff again, the trombone player and clarinettist put their instruments to their lips and take up the melody.

Are you thinking about it? Can you hear it?

Somehow the insouciance of the whole scene adds to the beauty of the music.

I have to get back to Kyteler’s now to look at the stage and lighting, so Liz takes the opportunity to look around some of Kilkenny’s shops while I’m doing my tech runs.

The ‘theatre’ at Kyteler’s Inn is the top bar, which is a marvellous medieval room, complete with stone walls, arched windows of stained glass and suits of armour. At one end there is a high platform which becomes a decent sized stage with plenty of room for my small set (a wooden stool, a hat stand draped with white material, a chair and a table).

There are three theatrical lights, which actually are there for dancing and musical gigs, but they will work well if we can stop one slowly changing from red to yellow to blue constantly. Liz comes back and looks at the stage from various audience seats and we tweak until we are satisfied that the lighting is as good as we can get it.

JD (star of TV’s ‘The Shelbourne’) is going to act as master of ceremonies tonight and that role includes operating my CD voiceovers, so we spend a bit more time making sure that the sound levels are correct and that the tracks are cued up properly.

When we are satisfied, Liz and I head back to the house for a bit of a rest before the evening’s events

As we drive up to the security gates we phone ahead but they don’t work (I later discover that my phone is adding +44 to the Irish number, thereby rendering it unrecognisable to the security system). Liz gets out of the car and puts the number that Nicky gave us earlier into the keypad, thereby activating the electric motors and swinging the gates open.

At the front door I put the key in and the alarm sets up its warning ‘beep, beep, beep, beep’. I get my phone out and look at the number that Nicky texted me earlier today. Press the four digits. ‘beep beep beep beep’. For some reason the alarm doesn’t deactivate and there is a message flashing: ‘incorrect number. System not disarmed’. Damn! I must have hit a wrong number. Try again.

Meanwhile Liz is saying ‘That’s the wrong number’. Helpful. I know. Press the keypad again. Definitely correct this time. ‘Beep beep beep beep. Incorrect number. System not disarmed.’

‘Darling, that’s the wrong number.’

‘Yes, yes, I know!’ I am beginning to sound like my own father as he got impatient with my mother.

Stabbing at the keys this time.

‘Beep beep beep beep. Incorrect number. System not disarmed.’

‘It’s not right!’

And now all hell breaks loose as the beeping stops and a piercing high pitched wail takes its place.

‘That’s the wrong number!!!!’

‘I put it in properly, and this is the text Nicky sent. It IS right, the system is broken.’

Grrrrrrrrrrrr. Grrrrrr. Grr. Gr. Oh.

Gradually the realisation dawns on me that the texted number was for the gate. The alarm number was the other number.

Liz recognises the fact that I have worked out the problem, but to her great credit does not say ‘I told you so.’ She even manages not to look smug. Well, not too smug.

‘I, um, I got the numbers mixed up.’

‘Yes’

I put the correct number in and amazingly the wailing alarm is silenced. At the same time I have a message from Nicky, who has been called by the security company and probably by the police as well.

At the scene of the crime we fully expect an armoured car to screech up, disgorging gun-toting officers yelling at us to ‘Spread ‘em!’

Fortunately for us nobody arrives, so we go in to the kitchen and have a cup of tea.

Actually there isn’t that much time until we have to go back into town and get ready for the show. Kyteler’s Inn is busy this evening and the various bar areas are noisy and lively.

The top bar/theatre is now laid out for our show, with seats in rows. Liz is going to man the ticket table at the door and runs through the pricing arrangements with Nicky. This may sound easy but it is made more complicated by the fact that we are offering a discount for anyone who comes to both of my events.

So, a ticket for tonight costs €15. A ticket for tomorrow’s show is €10. Some people have bought tickets for both at a cost of €20 and their ticket will be marked with a G and an S. If people who have only bought a ticket for tonight (just a G on the ticket) but decide that they would like to come tomorrow as well, then tomorrow’s ticket will only cost them €5 and Liz must add an S to the already purchased G. Some people have paid in advance but need to collect their tickets. Some people need to collect their tickets AND pay for their tickets.

Everything is ready with 30 minutes to go and the first customers arrive. Immediately Liz realises that the preparations were not quite completed. There are no tickets.

Nicky runs back to the main bar and comes back with the envelope containing all of the tickets.

The gentleman would like to know if there is a different price for senior citizens. Haven’t discussed it. Call Nicky again. No.

The gentleman would like to pay with a credit card. Liz looks at the box of cash. Nicky comes to the rescue once more and takes him to the bar and uses the card machine there.

I take the opportunity to go upstairs to the old flat, which is now a store room, in order to change surrounded by bottles of booze of all kinds.

As the 7.30 start time approaches I head back down to the room and wait with Liz at the back until we are all ready to start.

JD gets the signal from Nicky (these events are great family affairs) and makes his way up to the stage. I may be imagining it but I’m sure there is a gasp as people recognise him as JD from televison’s ‘The Shelbourne’. He makes a typically impressive introduction, the voiceover plays at the correct moment and I make my entrance from the rear of the room.

‘HOLD YOUR NOISE! KEEP STILL YOU LITTLE DEVIL, OR I’LL CUT YOUR THROAT!!!’ has the required effect and there are sharp intakes of breath as Magwitch makes his appearance from behind the audience.

The first act goes very well and the audience clap appreciatively at the interval. As they refill their glasses at the bar I go back to the flat/store room to cool off a bit, towel down and get a fresh shirt on for the second act.

Great Expectations is quite a dark, intense show but the beginning of the second act has one of the necessary comic moments as Wemmick takes Pip to meet his Aged Parent. It is a part of the show I love and the audience responds to it.
Pip’s adventures take him on. He learns who his benefactor is, he is spurned by Estella, tries to save Miss Havisham, is attacked by Orlick, loses Magwitch, becomes reunited with Joe, works for Herbert, returns to Satis House and walks away from the story, hand-in-hand with Estella once more.

I am exhausted but so pleased with the way the show has worked, and Nicky, standing at the back clapping, is delighted too. I think we have proved once more that the top bar at Kyteler’s Inn is a genuine theatre space and fully deserves to be included as a festival venue.

Many of the audience stay in the bar to chat and it is quite late before I am able to change. JD is there with Una, Nicky is chatting with everyone, Liz and I get a glass of wine and join the group.

Eventually people start to leave and we all go back to the house.

I don’t do the alarm

.
Nicky has brought platters of food from the kitchens at Kyteler’s and it is perfect post-show food: lots of things just to pick on such as cocktail-sausages, sandwiches and samosas. We all sit round the table once more, chatting and laughing.
Tomorrow I have another show and this time it is a new one and it is at lunchtime, so I really must have an early night.

Well after midnight, then, we say our goodnights.

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