Today is the final day of the Dickens Fellowship, North of Boston Branch’s Pickwickian Endeavours conference and the final formal event of the final day is to be me, performing The Complete Works of Charles Dickens.
I wake at a decent time, make my coffee and get up to have my first run-through before I shower. It seems to be running well (the show, not the shower), but it still doesn’t feel fully natural and I am having to concentrate too much, which can be a dangerous thing. The perfect situation to be in is for the words to be so familiar that you have plenty of mental capacity left over to deal with other situations. I must hope that no other situations arise!
Before going to breakfast I need to make one of my props for the show. During the scene from David Copperfield the script calls for me to pour a tumbler of ale, hold it up to the light and ‘make it look beautiful.’
I have no ale, but I do have a tumbler, some hot water and a few tea bags. I fill the tumbler, leave the tea bags infusing and head for the breakfast room where I meet up with the trio from Chatham, Ontario. We discuss last night’s performance of Doctor Marigold and this morning’s programme of lectures which sound very interesting.
I go back to my room where the ‘beer’ is brewing well. I do another run through which I achieve without any problems. I think that I am ready.
My show is at 11 this morning so am in costume and ready to leave the hotel at 10.20, In the front parlour there are some little finches in cages and a wave of sorrow comes over me. Not only because they are caged but also because my head is so full of lines from the show that the passage from Barnaby Rudge presents itself:
At one house near Moorfields, they found in one of the rooms some canary birds in cages, and these they cast into the fire alive. The poor little creatures screamed, it was said, like infants, when they were flung upon the blaze
I wish them ‘good luck’ and head for The Athenaeum. When I arrive the previous lecture is just finishing so I listen to the end. It is a fascinating study of how Charles Dickens was influenced by the writings of the mill workers at Lowell, Mass and may have used those influences in the creation of A Christmas Carol.
The question and answer session finishes and everyone gets up to stretch their legs as I set up. The room is an elegant library, a perfect setting for such a show.
There is no going back now, no quiet time in a dressing room; no solitary moment for reflection. Before I know it I am introduced and everyone is clapping, then settling back in their seats with expressions of expectation (no, I am NOT going to say with expressions of Great Expectation: that would just be cheap).
I start the show and it works, oh it works well! No, it is not completely natural, but the audience are responding to it all the way through. Mrs Gamp has them laughing and each scene leads smoothly on to the next. I cruise through my problematic Bleak House passage and onto the end where even Edwin Drood passes without a hitch.
I am hot, tired but so happy.
I take questions about the script, how I developed it and why I chose the passages that I did. There is a final, planted question, about the little story A Child’s Journey With Dickens, so I talk about that for a while.
When everything is finished the conference is officially wound up and we all mingle around chatting. The students from Salem State University are due to perform two more short scenes from Martin Chuzzlewit on the back lawn so some of us take seats and settle down to watch. They are very entertaining and do a great job.
When the students are finished everyone starts to leave The Athenaeum for the last time. Although I haven’t attended many of the lectures, due to other shows or line learning, the consensus is that it has been a highly successful event and that Deb has done a great job.
There are still events laid on for the rest of the day however, the first of which is a Clam Bake by the sea (that sounds like an East Anglian seaside resort). Sadly not many people decide to go and there are only a handful of us there but it is a beautiful setting and the company is very good.
There is a real sense of being ‘off duty’, but I am not done yet and have two further commitments today the first of which is an appearance and book signing in a local book store. It is a very informal affair and I say the same sort of things that I said at the British Beer Company a few days ago. A decent group of people gather. Actually I am set up near to the front door so any unfortunate people who had happened to be in the shop when I started can’t really get out, thereby swelling the numbers.
I remain at Wicked Books for about forty five minutes before returning to the hotel. Whilst in the room I call Bob and Pam Byers to chat over things and to confirm how well everything has been going. We chat over speakerphone and it is very nice to hear their voices.
When the call is over I start assembling props and costumes for my final appearance in Salem this year. As a few of the delegates to the conference are not leaving until tomorrow, Deb has arranged a dinner theatre production of Nicholas Nickleby in Finz Restaurant, near to the old docks where I walked on my first day here.
I walk in costume and receive the now familiar cheery greetings and banter. The Nickleby costume is all black, as the main characters are in mourning, so I really fit in to the Salem scene today.
Our group is in an upstairs function room in what I imagine was an old warehouse. The décor is very modern and stylish (as you would expect from a seafood restaurant called Finz). There is a good smattering of people although numbers for each successive event are dwindling. Only the hardy few have made it to the end.
The meal is a ‘do it yourself’ or rather a ‘choose it yourself and let the chef do it himself’ buffet. Your choice of pasta is popped into simmering water and then your chosen vegetables are fried in oil and garlic, before the al dente pasta is tossed into them. Very fresh, very crisp, very lovely.
The plates are cleared away, glasses replenished and it is time for The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby. The setting is very intimate and bright, which is slightly odd for what is a very large theatrical sort of show. However everyone enjoys it and I am sure the people in the main restaurant downstairs must wonder what is going on as I bellow in the character of Mr Crummles: ‘I AM IN THE THEATRICAL PRO-FESS-ION!’
I bring the show to its end and now at last I am off duty.
A few of us remain and I say my goodbyes to Deb and the rest of the Salem crowd. It so happens that Kevin Quinn, from the New York branch of the Fellowship has been attending the conference, and is staying in the same hotel as I am, so we walk back together, stopping for a nightcap on the way.
When I get back to my room I am suddenly very tired. This has been a mammoth few weeks and all of that energy and adrenaline can now disperse, like the delegates of the conference. I have more events coming up over the next few days but for now I can switch off and sleep.
Oh, one gripe before parting: why, in hotels which do not offer a turn-down service (which in itself I find bizarre), do they insist on piling the bed high with quilts, scatter cushions and ornamental pillows which I will just throw on the floor where they will stay until housekeeping carefully arrange them again tomorrow ready for me to throw them on the floor again? Grrrrrr. There, rant over. Goodnight.