Monday October 5

Having fallen asleep quite early last night, I set a new record for early waking: when I turn over and peer at the clock I discover that it is 10.10pm!

The night continues in the same vein and I wake at 1, and 3 and finally at 4.15, when I finally give in. It’s very frustrating, as I haven’t had a show for three days and yet here I am exhausted.

I go through all of the morning routines and settle in to writing the blog, whilst sipping coffee and munching the last of some shortbread biscuits that I bought in Columbia. While I write I put the tv on and vaguely register that there is a commercial for a vacuum cleaner on. I keep writing for a while, sip some more coffee, look up at the television and realise that they are STILL selling the same vacuum cleaner. I switch off.

After writing for a while I get up and patter around the room ‘silently’ going through the lines of Doctor Marigold and The Signalman, which I will be performing later.

As the dark outside my window starts to ease, I realise that I can now avail myself of breakfast so I have a shower and dress before heading to the lobby.

The Hampton Inn, Lberty offers a simple buffet breakfast, as is the way of such establishments; but for whatever reason the little waffle maker here produces the best waffles in the USA (in my not so limited experience, that is). Of course I may find that standards have slipped over the past twelve months and that the management have started using a cheaper batter, or changed their old machines for something ‘more modern and state of the art.’

Fortunately they know when they are onto a good thing and the breakfast room is laid out just as I remember it. I don’t rush straight for the waffles, that would be unseemly: orange juice, a bowl of granola and some fresh fruit first, for I am a very healthy eater!

Then….fill the little paper cup: yes the batter is viscous (I’ve always wanted to use the word viscous in one of my posts), pour it into the heavy iron, clamp the lid shut, twist it through one hundred and eighty degrees, and the agonising wait has begun.

I try to look cool by fetching some coffee, and getting a knife and fork for my table, but every fibre is silently screaming at the timer ‘Now! Its had enough cooking time, NOW!’

And then ‘ping ping ping ping ping…’ Pavlov would have put me on a lead and taken me for a walk.

Breakfast was delicious.

Back in my room I gather all the bits and pieces necessary for my morning show – which includes two different costumes with attendant cufflinks, braces and shoes.

Kimberly is waiting for me at 9.15 and we head off for the drive to the Blue Springs North branch of the Mid Continent Library Service, where plenty of chairs are laid out ready for the show. The parking lot and the library itself however seem worryingly empty.

The librarians have set up a small stage and created a wonderfully spooky backdrop, showing a stretch of rail line, with a shadowy figure silhouetted, holding a lantern: perfect for The Signalman.

As the start time of 10am comes closer the seats begin to fill up, including a large group of 5th Grade students from a local school. I hope that two hours of Dickens language wont prove too much for them, but they seem to be an incredibly well behaved and quiet group .

At 10 o’clock I begin and after a short preamble explaining the terrible circumstances surrounding the Staplehurst rail disaster of 1865, I begin The Signalman: ‘Halloa! Below There!’

The show is going well and the atmosphere is building nicely, but I make a complete hash of some of the lines – suddenly finding myself in a passage, realising that I have to say something else, which I have missed, to make sense of something else that comes later – such is the way the mind works on stage.

I am furious with myself. All of the time spent in hotel rooms (and airports) going over lines and I go and make a stupid error like this. As far as the actual show is concerned, it is fine. I get out of the hole I’d dug myself into and carry on. But it is the principle of the matter that counts and I am so angry.

The Signalman is actually a very short reading, but very intense and right from the start it has been a difficult one to commit to memory. Something like Great Expectations or Doctor Marigold certainly took a long time to learn, but they are well lodged now and require only a little ‘dusting off’ when I come to perform them. With The Signalman, on the other hand, it seems as if I am starting from scratch each time.

I get to the end of the story and there is a welcome applause and excited murmur, so things must have gone alright from the audience’s point of view. I dash back to the Librarian’s offices, where I quickly change into my Doctor Marigold costume and return to the ‘auditorium’ for the second half.

Marigold: I am totally home with Marigold. I love ‘being’ Marigold. Doctor Marigold was one of Charles Dickens’ most successful performances during his reading tours in the 1860s. It was a brave choice for him to perform in that it involved him taking on a single persona and talking directly to his audience for an hour, rather than acting as narrator and using multiple characters to tell the story.

The story is funny, moving and uplifting and because most of the audience have never heard of it, nobody knows what is going to happen at the end. I’m not going to tell you here, you must come and see it.

The effect is just what I want, and it is a very successful performance, producing plenty of tears by the end (tears of sadness or happiness? As I said, you must come and see it).

I have a little meet and greet session afterwards before changing back into my normal clothes and heading off to lunch.

Kimberly drives me to a branch of Panera Bread near to the hotel and we order our food, before settling down to a meeting. Very grown up, that: a lunch meeting.   For quite a while now Kimberly has been investigating the idea of putting together a tour group to explore ‘Dickens’ America’ and wants me on board as tour guide and consultant. She has been chasing me for ideas for about two years now, and at last this is our opportunity to discuss the project at greater length.

By the end of lunch our notebooks are filled with exciting ideas for cities, museums, hotels, canals, rivers and communities associated with Dickens’ two visits to America in 1842 and 1868. Now it is time to make some coherent sense of the material and see if the idea will work logistically.

After lunch I go back to the hotel and firstly go through The Signalman again, trying to work out what sent me off on the wrong track. I go through the relevant part of the script a few times and then lay on the bed for an afternoon nap, trying to catch up some of the sleep from last night.

I doze fitfully until the alarm goes off at 5pm. I get up, have a refreshing and energizing shower and get ready for the evening.

I will be performing the same programme at the Woodneath branch of the library, which is only five minutes away, so Kimberly picks me up at 5.45, for the 6.30 start. The Woodneath branch has been a constant part of my Kansas City visits for the last three years and Melissa, the librarian, has a background in theatre, so is very keep to stage lots of shows.

Whereas this morning’s event was held in a cleared out corner of the Library, Woodneath has a separate room dedicated to lectures and performances, which is packed with chairs. There is always a good turn out here.

I check the microphone system and as audience members are already gathering outside, I go to get changed. Even in my little ‘dressing room ‘ (storage closet), I am still going through The Signalman over and over. When I emerge, the room is almost full and I stand at the back with Kimberly and Melissa watching the people pour in.

As I said, Melissa has a theatre background and she tells me that she is running a series of workshops on stage fright and how to deal with it. My line lapse from this morning surges to the front of my brain. Maybe I’d better take one of her workshops!

When everyone is settled I take to the stage and begin. The Signalman goes much better this evening. Not perfect, for there are a couple of hesitations and minor inaccuracies, but I’m much happier with it. I love hearing a gasp of realisation at the end when the train driver tells the narrator what he called out to the doomed signalman, and tonight there is such a gasp. The applause is wonderful.

We have a fifteen minute break for people to stretch their legs and check their mobile phones (although quite a few of them were able to do that during the show), and for me to change costume again.

Melissa manages to round everyone up, and we are ready for act 2.

This particular crowd, on this particular evening are a perfect Marigold crowd. They buy into the whole style of the show and are laughing along with it until Dickens makes his U turn and takes them in a completely different direction, which they dutifully follow.

It is a lovely shared experience of a show and at the end there is a standing ovation, which I had not expected at all.

I chat for a while and sign a few things, until the room is empty once more. I get changed, say good bye to Melissa (I will be back here in November), and then load my things into Kimberly’s car.

We decide to dine at the Longhorn Steakhouse again, as it is very close to my hotel, and tonight I have thick juicy ribye with a baked potato, instead of my rather effete salad of last night. It is a nice way to sign off from this one week mini tour.

Kimberly drops me off at the Hampton Inn and in no time I am on the verge of sleep.