Firstly, congratulations dear readers: The blog posted on Tuesday (Plenty of Beer), received more views than any other I have written. Obviously my laundry and breakfast habits are more interesting than I could ever have imaged!
Meanwhile, in a hotel near Occoquan….
In essence today is a copy of yesterday, in that I need to leave fairly early for a two and a half hour drive, which will be followed by two performances. The only slight difference is that yesterday I left an elegant historic hotel and slept in a Hampton Inn, whereas today I am leaving the Hampton Inn and will sleep in an elegant Historic hotel.
I go to the lobby for breakfast and have the obligatory waffle. While I am sat, a couple arrive for their breakfast and, as they have plenty of bags, it looks as if they are checking out too.
There follows a conversation that Harold Pinter would have been proud to put in one of his plays. There is nothing witty about it; neither is it particularly profound. What makes the exchange striking is its sheer normalness.
Here’s how Pinter may have recorded it:
‘Act 1: Morning. The scene: a motel breakfast room. Two characters enter: a man and a woman. They are dressed casually in jeans. He wears a hat. They appear to be together. They carry bags which may have Christmas gifts within.
Together they approach the table where a coffee urn is set. They fill their cups. She looks at a box containing assorted tea bags. She looks at him.
F: ‘Do you drink tea?’
F: ‘I don’t either.’
She pauses. He sips his coffee while she studies the tea bags further.
F: ‘I drink Ice tea.’
He looks at her. A pause.
M: ‘Ice tea, yes.’ A pause. ‘Not hot tea’
F: ‘Not hot tea, no.’
The more I think about this conversation the more questions it raises. If they are a couple, as they appear to be, they would know about each other’s tea drinking habits. The bags and their general manner do not suggest some illicit wild love affair and they certainly don’t have the appearance of work colleagues travelling together. So, who are they? Where are they going and where have they been?
Anyway, whatever their background, they eat a quick breakfast and leave the motel to continue their story, whatever it is, without me eavesdropping.
Moments like that can be fascinating when you are travelling on the road alone. I’m sure that I have been the subject of such scrutiny by various people along the way.
After breakfast I pack my bags and get onto the road, having filled up the car with fuel. My route takes me south on the I 95 to Williamsburg.
I decide to entertain myself by trying to spot licence plates from as many different states as I can. Obviously Virginia and Maryland are popular, but little by little my collection increases.
You would not believe the sheer joy I feel when I spot ‘Indiana’ or ‘Delaware’, or some such.
By the time I reach Williamsburg I have collected 22 different states and as I pull into the car park I spy ‘Ohio’ to add one more. I think that’s quite impressive. If I could have seen California, Nebraska, Missouri and New Hampshire, I would have had a full house of States visited on this tour, bad sadly those four eluded me.
The Williamsburg Inn is magnificent; there is no other word for it. The building is a mansion and sits at the head of its very own sweeping, circular drive. The portico is four stories high, and is supported by four pillars, each decorated by white Christmas lights. Southern charm exudes from every white brick.
Inside the elegance continues. A tastefully decorated Christmas tree sits opposite the main door, and the lobby is filled with antique furniture. To the left a fire burns in a grate. Behind the tree there are windows which allow the hall to be filled with natural light.
The main reception desk is tucked away in a separate room to the right, so as not to sully the ambience with the distasteful business of checking in or out.
I am greeted as soon as I walk in: ‘Welcome home Mr Dickens’
Apparently there has been some confusion over the actual dates of my stay. The hotel had expected me to arrive last night, and to check out on Thursday, whereas my schedule has me checking in today and remaining here until Friday. The issue is swiftly and quietly dealt with and I am soon given the keys to room 3269: The Queen’s Suite.
Oh yes! As last year I am being treated, literally, like Royalty. The suite is magnificent, with four different rooms, each of which is larger than any hotel room I’ve enjoyed on the trip so far.
The bathroom boasts his ‘n’ her wash basins (for Queen Liz and Prince Phil), and a big, deep bathtub.
In the wardrobe I discover a new amenity that I have not realised was essential in a hotel room before, and that is a shoehorn.
However, what the Queen’s Suite at The Williamsburg Inn does not boast is a coffee machine, Keurig or other. I suppose that the Queen has a little man to fetch her morning pick-me-up.
I call room service and order a burger for lunch and get my things ready for the shows.
As I wait for my lunch I check emails and am interested to see that there is one from Katherine Desinger at the Farleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey. She has thoughtfully forwarded some of the feedback from the audience at our event.
You may have gathered during some of my posts, that actors are a delicate, insecure bunch, and never was that more apparent than now.
There are thirty two comments and spread through thirty one of them are words such as: ‘Superb; captivating; animated; excellent; professional and entertaining; magical; great’ and so on. But amongst all of the fulsome praise is one negative comment and of course that is the only one I will remember:
“I found Gerald’s rendition of Scrooge’s voice quite annoying and irritating. Gerald’s interpretation of how Scrooge would sound was grating on my nerves the entire evening. With regard to the other character’s voices, I think Gerald did a nice job.
However, being that Scrooge is the main character that voice rendition put a significant damper on things for me throughout the presentation. Should this event be offered once again in the future, I would not attend. “
Oh dear! Although, in my defence, when Dickens describes Scrooge, he does say that the cold within him ‘spoke out shrewdly in his grating voice’, so the fact that the writer of the comment uses the word ‘grates’ is a sort of compliment. But it hurts, nonetheless.
After I have eaten I go down the sweeping staircase, resisting the temptation to wave to my subjects, and head for the Regency Room, the hotel’s signature dining room.
I am greeted by Michele DeRosa, who is responsible for booking me and running the events at the Inn. She is terribly apologetic but has to tell me that the Queen’s Suite is only free for one day (as they thought I was arriving yesterday and hadn’t expected me to take up residence for the extra day), so I am going to have to move room tomorrow morning.
I don’t mind at all, of course. It is lovely to be in the suite even for one day, and there is no bad room here, they all have the same degree of luxury.
The Regency Room is laid out for the tea and one look tells me that it is a sell-out event. White-jacketed waiters are making sure that each table is properly laid, and that water glasses are filled. The whole operation, I am delighted to see, is under the military control of Leroy.
I have worked with Leroy for many years and was dismayed when he told me last year that he would be retiring, but here he is, still commanding his troops.
As I am being wired up to do a sound check, another old friend arrives: Ryan Fletcher, who has introduced me at every one of my events at Williamsburg. Ryan is an opera singer, who teaches at William and Mary College. We have always got on well and exchange a big hug of welcome, which almost crushes my ribcage!
We chat and catch up for a while and then I go back to my room to change.
By the time I get back down, the seating has already begun and there is a fine array of Christmas sweaters and ties on display. I stand with Michele and Leroy at the top of the stairs which lead into the Regency Room, and greet the guests as they arrive. One young girl hands me a bag with a wrapped gift in it: a large tin of chocolate covered peanuts. People are really so kind, and I am very humbled.
When everyone is seated, Leroy gives Ryan the nod and the event begins.
The atmosphere in The Regency Room is always amazing. My performance space is the dance floor in the centre, but I try to roam among the tables whenever I can, to include those guests sat at the sides of the room.
Everyone joins in and laughs at the appropriate moments, and the hardly-stifled giggles as Mrs Cratchit prepares to fetch her pudding, tell me that a lot of people have seen the show many times before.
As I get towards the end I move a small table to centre stage, to represent Cratchit’s desk. There is a large hand bell on it (I used to use a bell here, and the staff have put it on the stage in case I need it). During the very last lines of the show I place Scrooge’s top hat on the table too, and suddenly realise that Scrooge has been linguistically reunited with his ex fiancé, Belle. It is a rather sweet moment, and I actually start to well up.
The show runs its course and I take my bows as the audience stands. I hope Scrooge’s voice wasn’t too irritating, though.
As my suite is very close to the main hallway, where I will be signing, it is easy to run upstairs and change costume. When I come down there is a goodly line and I start the pleasurable experience of signing, and talking about the show.
As the line gets near its end a few people who are arriving for the evening show start to come to the table. Among them are two ladies, who turn out to be mother and daughter.
They explain that Starr, the mother, has been trying to come to the show for three years and has actually had tickets for the last two, but last-minute medical issues have prevented her from being able to attend. At last, this year, she has made it and is quite overawed.
She is clutching a Christmas box, and hands it to me saying, almost in tears, that she has made this for me.
It is the most beautifully designed and stitched sampler, in the Victorian style, featuring three quotes from A Christmas Carol. So much thought and effort has gone into the piece.
A printed label on the back explains the history of samplers and points out that they often featured spelling mistakes. This one is perfect: even the word ‘honour’ is spelled correctly!
I am dumb-struck at Starr’s creativity and generosity.
I have an hour or so in my room, before the evening event gets under way, so I make use of the bathtub. I just lay, letting the hot water soak my aching limbs. It feels very luxurious. I wonder if the Queen had a bath here too.
Suitably relaxed and cleansed, I am soon getting back into my costume.
The lobby and bar are already busy with guests for the dinner event. I go straight to the Regency Room to check everything is OK.
In past years I used to perform each chapter between the courses at dinner, as at Hershey but we made a change last year and now I wait until dessert is served, before starting a complete run of the script. It is easier for me and easier for the kitchen staff.
I am seated at a table with Ryan and his wife Jeanne, as well as Carol Godwin, Christine Vincent and her husband Erich. This is a great table, as it represents the original Williamsburg team. Ryan has been present at all of my shows, Carol was in charge of PR when I first visited, whilst Christine worked in the events department and always looked after me during my stays here. There is a lot of nostalgia, and plenty of anecdotes around the table.
Also in the audience, sat just a few tables away, are Stephen Kirkland and his wife Sarah-Jane. Those of you who have been following the blog from the start of the tour will remember that I worked with Stephen for a day to promote his event in Norfolk, Virginia: The Dickens Christmas Towne.
I greet Stephen and Sarah-Jane and chat about how successful Christmas Towne has been: Stephen is confident that they will top 10,000 visitors during the coming weekend. I am very glad for him as it is the result of a long held dream and back in November nobody had any idea if it would actually work.
Dinner is served, which is a thick crabmeat soup, followed by the tenderest beef you have ever tasted. The hum of conversation in the room tells its own story, and everyone is having a most enjoyable evening.
At eight fifteen Ryan once more gets the nod from Leroy and the reminiscing with Carol and Christine must stop.
Once again it is a pleasure to play the room, and the audience once more become part of the story. I have placed Starr’s sampler on the set, and make sure that I include her in part of the show.
Poor Sarah-Jane Kirkland was earmarked from the beginning of the evening to be the object of Topper’s flirtatious advances, and she blushes perfectly on cue.
I am wearing the nicer of my two frock coats this evening, but it is also the heavier one, and I am building up quite a sweat as I move around the room.
‘And, as Tiny Tim Observed: God Bless Us, Every One.’
The applause and ovation are wonderful and I make my bows to all corners of the room.
The change of costume now is a necessity rather than a luxury, and I take a few minutes in my room to gather myself, before going back to the lobby where a long line is waiting.
Everyone is happy, and there is definitely a Christmas spirit in the air.
When the last of the guests have donned their coats and left the hotel, or returned to their rooms, I make for the bar where Carol, Christine and Erich are waiting (Ryan and Jeanne had to leave straight after dinner).
Over dinner Ryan suggested, as he does every year, that I should be performing this in The Whitehouse. Carol has decided that this is a superb idea and is putting her marketing brain to work on the problem. She picks my brains about Dickens’s visit to DC and where she can read about it.
It is an interesting thought: could Topper sidle up to the first lady and purr into her ear: ‘Hellloooo’. Probably not, without being shot.
As we chat I can feel the energy draining away from me. I have performed fifteen times in eight days and it has been an exhausting period. Tomorrow I have a complete day off, surrounded by the delights of Williamsburg, before heading into the final two days of the tour.
Everyone is ready to leave and I hug my good byes to Carol, Christine and Erich, before returning to my palatial suite and falling asleep between the Queen’s sheets.