Today it is time to move on once more, with a two hour drive into Connecticut. My sound check will be at 12.30, so there is not a huge rush this morning.
For breakfast I decide to have pancakes and bacon and when it is served it appears to have a shot glass of whiskey on the side: well, it is St Andrew’s Day, after all. Closer inspection reveals the Scotch to be syrup, but I raise my glass to the patron saint of Scotland nonetheless.
Although I should have plenty of time in hand, I decide it will be best to get all of the costumes prepared now, so if I am caught in heavy traffic, I can just go straight to the theatre with no panic.
I iron two shirts, and fold both of my costumes into the smaller of my two suitcases. I now realise how silly I have been not to bring coat hangers with me. So far I have simply hung my costume on the hangers of whichever hotel I happen to be staying in, but today I cannot do that. Folding it is.
I check out and get on the road. As I drive I try once more to make the radio communicate with my phone, and play my Christmas playlist: once more I am treated to the opening lines of Great Expectations booming through the speakers. I’d really rather have Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole and The Pogues.
Suddenly, at last, I am greeted with success and Elvis Presley informs me that ‘Here Comes Santa Claus’. I am just settling into a 2-hour Christmas Fest, when the song cuts out half way through and Perry Como takes over for a few bars, before he is replaced by Bruce Springsteen.
I give in. Line learning it will be, then.
And now the second irritation of my journey becomes apparent. Somewhere in the charging system of my Satnav system, there is something lose. Every now and then, and for no apparent reason, a message flashes up on the screen: ‘External Power Lost. Unit will shut down in 10, 9, 8, 7, 6….’ Frantic jiggling of the wires and the message disappears.
As the journey progresses it is punctuated by constant jiggling, accompanied by my own voice telling me that ‘My own family name being Pirrip and my father’s name being Phillip….’, interrupted by ‘I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas!’ I suppose it all prevents me from dropping off at the wheel.
As the miles go by I entertain myself by picking off the British city names, and thinking the strange geographical realignment that has occurred. For instance, South Windsor is right next to Manchester, with Glastonbury not far away.
Then there is New Britain cheek by jowl with Berlin, in a timely reminder of how things may have been if Hitler had got his way.
The journey goes on.
I pass the sign to Bridgeport, Connecticut. There is a connection here to my show, for Bridgeport was the home town of PT Barnum: the Prince of Humbug! I don’t think that Dickens ever met Barnum, but what a double act that would have been.
I am into the final thirty minutes of the drive now and it has been plain sailing, with no traffic hold ups. The smoothness of the journey is summed up by an abandoned settee at the roadside: Sofa So Good.
At 11.45 I pull up outside the Hilton Garden Inn, where I have an early check-in time arranged. I can get to my room and relax for a few minutes, before I need to drive on to the theatre in Wilton.
The first thing I notice in the room, is that it has the same model Keurig coffee maker as at The Beechwood, and that gets me thinking: maybe event organisers are reading my blog and trying to provide all of the things that I have mentioned as being positive.
With that in mind:
As I enter room 229 at The Hilton Garden Inn, the carpet is strewn with rose petals, creating a path to the iced champagne bucket, and a plate of the finest Swiss chocolates. A gilt edged card tells me that I can arrange the massage at any time to suit my convenience.
In the parking lot the Bentley sits purring, the chauffeur will be happy to let me drive. My costume and props are to be transported by a separate vehicle and will be pressed and hung waiting for me in the dressing room….
No? Oh, well. I love life just as it is!
I get back into the Ford Escape and set the SatNav for the Clune Auditorium at the Wilton High School.
This is my third year to perform in Wilton, and the event is run by Gary and Jennifer Bean, who own a magnificent Christmas Store in a historic farm building.
Gary is already busy setting up the lobby for the performance and welcomes me back, before introducing me to Christian, the Tech guru at the school.
The auditorium is beautiful, the stage is not too high or remote from the audience and the acoustics are superb.
With the technical preparations completed, Gary takes me to my dressing room, where I hang up my two costumes and generally spread myself out, to fill all of the available space.
Gary has asked me to sign two boxes of A Christmas Carol books, to sell in the store after I’ve left, so I sit at the table and scribble: Gerald Charles Dickens, 2014.
As I am signing, Gary asks about my son, Cameron: ‘How old is he now?’ ‘15’ and suddenly I am signing Gerald Charles Dickens, 2015!’ That book will have to go into the stock cupboard for next year.
As the clock ticks on, some students arrive clinging violins and cellos. They are under the directorship of a music teacher, who originally comes from Wallingford in Oxfordshire, not twenty minutes from my own home.
The ensemble form up on stage and tune ‘like fifty stomach aches’
I retire to the dressing room to get ready for the show. I drink a lot of water, and do lots of breathing and vocal exercises. Although the sound system is good, and I shouldn’t have to project any more than in a smaller venue, I always feel that a large theatre production needs to be more technically perfect.
As the time gets closer to two I make my way into the wings and watch the students play a series of Christmas Carols, each one enthusiastically applauded by the audience, which bodes well for me.
From my vantage point I can see Bob and Pam Byers sitting near to the front of the auditorium. I have worked with the Byers Choice company for six years and it is purely thanks to the efforts of Bob, that I am able to undertake these tours. My gratitude to him is immeasurable. Pam Byers, Bob’s wife, has taken over the day to day running of the tour this year. She calls herself my ‘fixer’.
Today they have driven from Pennsylvania, just to see the show. It will be great to chat later, as we have only communicated via email so far on this year’s tour.
The music continues on stage.
I love the wing space of an active theatre: here there is a surrey with a fringe on top: am I guessing that Oklahoma! is in the offing? A large set of wooden stairs leads to nowhere. A Victorian gas street lamp lies drunkenly against a wall. A grand piano sits forlornly beneath its cover, in the centre of the stage, but behind the heavy curtains and in darkness.
Ropes disappear up into the gloom, waiting to be released and transport an audience to a different world and time.
I am brought out of my reverie by the sound of Jennifer on stage, thanking the musicians and then starting my introduction.
I walk onto the stage to great applause, and wait patiently to begin: ‘I have endeavoured in this ghostly little book , to raise the ghost of an idea, which shall not put my readers out of humour with each other….’ Oh, no! I’ve already made a mistake. I should have said ‘with themselves, with each other.’ Concentrate, Dickens. All of that theatre romance has made me lazy. Concentrate!
With that sharp reminder in my head, I start to focus much more intently on the words.
At first I am rather annoyed with Christian, for the light seems very dim, and restrictive. I have all of this space on the stage to play with, and he has just lit a small area in the centre. Oh well, carry on.
But when I say ‘Once upon a time, of all the good days in the year, on Christmas Eve….’ The whole stage is bathed in light and I suddenly realise what is going on. Christian is a theatre man and wants to be part of the show.
For the next hour and twenty minutes, we work together. I can tell which lights he is using for the sombre, heavy, dark passages, and make sure that I am on the right part of the stage when they start to glow.
Christian has no script in front of him and is guided purely by the tone of my performance and his own knowledge of the story. We have no communication, other than the words that were written one hundred and seventy years ago.
It is an amazing feeling, and a very theatrical one.
The audience love the whole experience and vote with their feet, by stamping them on the floor as they stand to applaud. Jennifer comes back to the stage, and gives me a congratulatory hug as I leave it.
And suddenly I am back in the world of fluorescent strip lights, and utilitarian furniture. I can’t hear the audience anymore; there is no atmosphere, but I am very pumped up in my dressing room as I change into my second costume, grab my fountain pen, and head out for the signing session.
The lobby is packed and at first I can’t even find the table at which I am supposed to sit. I follow the line and eventually track down my seat. Gary is there to marshal the queue and to act as photographer where necessary, and so the process begins.
It was a large audience and the signing line is correspondingly long, but everyone is excited and the comments about the show are fabulous.
When the last lady leaves (a true long-term fan: she had first seen me perform in Myrtle Beach, some seventeen years ago), I stretch my legs and at last can greet Bob and Pam in person.
We chat about the tour so far and how things are going. Bob kindly invites me to dinner with them, and with Gary and Jennifer too, which will be a lovely way to wind down.
Before I change I make a point of finding Christian, and thanking him for his amazing performance. He is modest in the extreme and says he ‘just did what he could, without really knowing the show’.
It is strange to be finished for the day before five o’clock, but it is a nice change. Gary and Jennifer suggest that we go to Orem’s Diner and we have all have a very relaxed happy time squeezed into a circular corner-booth; (point of grammar, I know you cant have a ‘circular corner’….but I hope you understand the image, nonetheless).
The conversation flows from one subject to another. We talk about the tour; Bob, Gary and Jennifer talk about the Christmas retail industry; Pam talks about online Scrabble and a lady she has ‘met’ in that cyber-world, who performs a one woman show, based on the life of Ghandi’s wife. We all talk about our kids.
Even after we have finished with our food the conversation continues. However Bob and Pam have to get back on the road, so we say our respective goodbyes in the car park and leave in convoy.
Back at the hotel the early night gives me the opportunity to do something that I haven’t done so far on this year’s tour: I can do my laundry in the evening! Oh yes, the Rock n’ Roll lifestyle is alive and kicking in Connecticut.
After the first load is in the washer, and the liquid detergent added, I slide the five quarters into the slots, push them into the machine and – nothing. Dead as a Dodo.
I go to the front desk, where fortunately the maintenance man is helping to hang Christmas decorations. He comes to the laundry, opens a secret flap, jiggles something and the machine trembles into life.
I tell him I have a second load to wash so we make an agreement to meet in thirty minutes time so he can jiggle again. I go back to my room.
The process is duly repeated and while my last load is in the drier, I sit at the little bar in the lobby, having a glass of wine and a slice of Key Lime Pie. The TV is on and I find the fly-on-the-wall programme strangely watchable.
Rich, very glamorous people are having all sorts of personal and marital difficulties. Suddenly it dawns on me that I, for the very first time in my life, am watching the Kardashians!
Don’t let me go towards the light………
I drink up quickly and go back to my room where I watch a much more wholesome programme: Law and Order: Special Victims Unit.
Phew, back to real life at last.