On waking up, still somewhat on eastern time, I am able to pace around my room doing a complete run through of Top Hole which I am to perform this evening.
Suddenly it has reached the point where everything works. I don’t need any comfort-blanket glances at the script and both acts run smoothly. It is always a great moment in the rehearsal period when this happens and as far as today’s show is concerned it couldn’t have been more perfectly timed.
Due to the rehearsal I am later to breakfast today and it is very busy, but I find a table and have pancakes with the complete works.
In my room I start to prepare my costumes for the day ahead, which is a logistical challenge. I need one to wear for A Christmas Carol, then one to change into before my signing period. I will need a third shirt to wear for the early part of the evening, and then two shirts for Top Hole (a change in the intermission will inevitably be required). I hope there is a laundry at my next hotel, for I am going to have a goodly collection to be cleaned.
I pack everything up into separate suit-carriers and lay them all out on the bed ready to be used at the appropriate moment.
I get into the first costume, put on my hat and scarf and walk out into the Californian morning. It must be said that a thick woollen scarf is not generally the attire favoured by Southern Californians and I attract a few strange looks as I walk.
Why walking, why no Babs this morning? The venue for my lunch performance of A Christmas Carol is the huge Convention Center which is situated right behind the hotel.
There are many serious business folk wearing their own form of costume heading towards the main entrance and they are joined by a smattering of Victorians. We all converge on the main steps in front of the entrance and a move into the building as one mass.
Our event is in a goodly-sized ballroom on the lower level and, as at yesterday’s events, the whole board is present, busily making preparations. The room is laid out with round tables and a stage at one end. There are two theatrical spot lights trained on the acting area and it looks as if it will be a very nice room to play.
Kathy gathers everyone round to go through the itinerary for the lunch: The guests will arrive at 11.30; the Queen will be introduced and welcomed; the salad and main course will be served; as dessert is being eaten I will be introduced and begin my show.
‘Wait!’ I say, ‘does that mean I miss out on dessert? ‘ I’m joking, as I wouldn’t eat a creamy rich dessert immediately before performing anyway.
One of the other volunteers chimes straight in with his own joke: ‘Don’t worry, it looks as if you’ve eaten plenty of desserts in your time!’ Ouch.
As per the schedule the guests begin to arrive at half past eleven. There are lots of people that I have met at previous events, either here in Riverside or when I used to perform in a luxurious resort north west of LA called the Ojai Valley Inn.
Guests are genuinely glad that I am back in the area, which is very special. I have always felt a very strong bond to Riverside.
Some people have been following my blog, including the duty manager at the Convention Center. He makes a point of introducing himself and shaking my hand.
The bustle continues and I catch the strangest snippets of conversation: for instance you would never have expected to see Prince Albert hurrying after a Victorian lady, calling out to her: ‘I must return your casserole dishes!’
At 12 everyone is seated and Bruce makes the announcement to rise and welcome the Queen. In comes the royal party led by a magnificent major domo in full Highland attire. Ed has been playing the role for many years at the festival, and he commands respect and awe.
The young Victoria and Albert follow on and the party is completed by a lady in waiting and an equerry.
Once seated we can all begin.
I am sat next to Albert (Tim), whom I have known for many years and have bumped into at other Dickens events. He is great company with many stories to tell, including how he almost burnt down Miriam Margoyles’ house in London.
During lunch is one of those ‘two countries separated by a common language’ moments. There is no butter on the table, so I ask our server for some. He looks blankly at me. ‘Could we have some butter?’ ‘Some what?’, ‘butter’, ‘No, I still don’t understand’, ‘butter’, still a blank look. I realise that I need to flatten the consonants more: ‘buddr’. ‘Oh, buddr, sure.’
Liz went through a similar experience in Kansas City a few years ago. On that occasion the issue was over a Tuna sandwich. The English pronunciation is ‘Tyuna’ for the Missouri folks it was ‘Toona’.
Dessert served (not for me), it is time to begin. Before the show however I am presented with a special certificate by Cheryl Brown, a local state representative, honouring my contribution to entertainment and education in Riverside over many years.
It is very moving and I had no idea the presentation was to happen. I have known Cheryl since my first visits to the area and she has always been a passionate supporter of the festival and of my performances.
The show itself is, I have to say, a triumph. I was right about the room, it works so well. Every part of the performance hits the mark and I really feel a surge of energy today.
There is only one small error. Instead of saying ‘Holding up his hands in a last prayer to have his fate reversed…’ somehow it comes out as: ‘….one last prayer to have his face reversed’. A strange thought.
When I am finished and taking my bows, a student appears and presents me with a huge bunch of flowers. I’ve never had a bunch of flowers after a show before and I am on the point of welling up!
When everything has settled down, we all sit while the Royal party is processed out and then I make a dash for the little conference room next door to change out of my damp performing costume, into an identical, but dry, one for the signing session.
There is a good queue waiting when I am ready and I sit, sign, pose and chat for forty minutes or so.
It is about 3.15 and Barbara is picking me up to take me to the country club at 4.30, so I have a brief period of down time. I get straight back to the hotel and throw off the costume.
I have a shower and try to wash away Scrooge and A Christmas Carol. The performance was so intense that I am still buzzing with the memories but I have to get rid of it and inhabit the world of PG Wodehouse.
At 4.30 and with all my Top Hole accoutrements, I wait on the pavement for Babs to arrive. She is a few minutes late and all in a fluster. She had gone home and dropped off to sleep, woken only by her sister calling to ask if she needed help hooking up her Victorian costume.
It is no great issue and we get to the Oak Quarry Golf Club in plenty of time. As the name suggests the course has been constructed in an old quarry and the setting looks incredible. High, jagged, harsh rocky outcrops towering above the lush green fairways. It is how golf will look if we ever inhabit the moon and cultivate courses there.
Against the large windows overlooking the course there is a stage ready for me. On it is a canvas bag with hickory shafted golf clubs which have been lent to us for the show.
I fuss around, setting the stage exactly how I want it, but mainly still trying to get rid of A Christmas Carol and Dickens. The sound check helps and I run through the opening of the Top Hole script for longer than is really necessary.
The golf club staff are very friendly and helpful and soon everything is ready. Now I just have to remember all of the lines.
The guests begin to arrive and many of them have been at all of the events over the two days. I am introduced to one lady who I don’t recognise; she is a member of the local PG Wodehouse Society.
Oh my! I have performed the show in England a few times, and have dealt with the society as I created the show, but none of them have seen, or passed judgement on it yet. I suddenly feel a huge sense of responsibility to do full justice to the author and his work.
At 6 o’clock The whole process of welcoming the Royal party is repeated. Ed, the major domo, takes a seat near to the stage and I am delighted, because he can feature in the show.
Dinner is a cafeteria style buffet and we are called up table by table. I, being on the Royal table, get to go up first. The golf club have lain on British dishes and there is a tasty looking shepherd’s pie, which I chose.
Once the main course is cleared away and dessert is served, I absent myself to change into the costume of The Oldest Member and get ready to perform.
Although PG Wodehouse is best known for his hilarious Jeeves and Wooster novels, he also write thirty three short golfing stories and it is from four of these that I have created the show.
In the books The Oldest Member sits in the clubhouse bar telling long rambling anecdotes to anyone who comes near. My idea was to use the character to start telling one of the stories, but he becomes increasing muddled and ends up telling the four tales, interwoven with each other.
‘On the broad terrace, outside his palace’, I begin. The first story is set in the mystical, ancient land of Oom. The King spots a gardener behaving strangely and this where I use Ed, in his Highland costume: ‘..he saw a stranger bearded fellow, with bushy eyebrows and a face like a walnut. ‘who is that?’ ‘It seems a harsh thing to say of any man, your majesty, but he is a Scotsman!’
Everybody laughs and I have them onside.
The show goes very well indeed and the lines stay firmly in place. There is a slight glitch towards the end of the second half and I don’t break into one of the stories with another when I should, but it doesn’t affect the overall running of the script and is easily retrievable.
I am very pleased with the way it has gone.
Lots of people come up to me and say how much they have enjoyed it. The lady from the Wodehouse society? She thinks I should be touring all of the WS chapters throughout America. Oh, my what a huge weight off my shoulders.
I am ready to get back to the hotel and pack up all of my belongings, before saying good bye to the clubhouse staff and indeed to all of the Riverside Dickens Festival folk.
It has been a marvellous two day visit and hopefully I will see them all again soon.
In the hotel I have a glass of wine and a warmed-up chocolate chunk cookie (after all, I do like my desserts) and ponder the evening’s events.
Top Hole has dominated the early part of this tour and I am very glad that I will not to have to worry about it any longer. Does that mean no more line learning? No. I now have to re-learn Dickens’s great ghost story The Signalman, which I will be performing in Omaha in a few days time.
No rest for the wicked and even as I ride up to in the lift I am already muttering ‘Halloa! below there…..’
This is no time for a proper rehearsal however, and I am soon in bed and ready to sleep.