Friday 6 November
It has always been the case, over my twenty or so years of touring, that for the first few days I will wake early in the morning. Not for about a week, and when I have seriously exhausted my body a few times, do the sleep patterns fall properly into place.
Today is no exception to that rule and the clock shows 5.02 as I role over and peer at it. Actually that doesn’t sound too bad, until I realise that the clock is running an hour fast and it is really 4.02. Outside I can hear the wind blowing and the rain lashing against the panes, which is depressingly reminiscent of home. When I flew in yesterday the skies were blue and the temperature in the high 70s. What a great sense of timing.
Actually a day of bad weather suits me quite well as I am planning to stay in the room and do plenty of rehearsing, as well as trying to catch up on some sleep.
The first, dark hours are spent writing the first blog of the tour, as well as half watching Tomorrow Never Dies which is being shown on one of the TV channels. It is by no means a classic Bond, but there are some lovely moments in it, not least the brief appearances of Desmond Llewelyn as Q.
As 7am rolls round I throw a few clothes on and go down to the kitchen where a pot of coffee is on the go. Sandy is bustling in the kitchen and pours me a cup and we have a brief chat. Sandy helps to run the Inn when the owner, Carol, is working in her regular job as one of the top real estate agents in the county.
I have arranged to have breakfast at 9, so I have a little more time to kill. I come back to the room and unpack my costume so that some of the travel-induced creases can hang out. The film comes to its explosive end and I go back down the carved staircase to my breakfast.
I am spoiled! The huge dining table has been laid with great elegance: a cream-coloured table cloth, fine china and the most exquisite delicate glass filled with orange juice are carefully arranged at the head of the table: I am the only guest this morning.
As soon as she hears me Sandy appears with the coffee pot and a plate of scrambled eggs, crispy bacon and the fluffiest, softest French Toast that I have ever tasted. It is truly delicious and I clear every last morsel.
When I have finished I take my plate into the kitchen and we have a chat about my schedule, and life on the road. Although not involved with the Dickens event, Sandy is a major mover in the Hopalong Cassidy festival here – ‘Hoppy’ having been born in Cambridge. There are moves to have a statue built to commemorate him and I tell her about our efforts to get the state of Dickens erected in Portsmouth.
It is now time to return to my room and get on with some rehearsing. After twenty years of performing A Christmas Carol, the words are pretty well lodged, but this year has seen me learning and performing a lot of different shows, and the Carol has been shuffled right to the back of my brain: To Begin With, The Signalman, Doctor Marigold, Top Hole, Nicholas Nickleby, Great Expectations, the Chorus speech from Henry V and A Child’s Journey With Dickens have all been committed to memory since I last signed off ‘God Bless Us, Every One’, so there is work to be done.
I pace around the room, going through each scene, and besides a few stumbles, everything seems to be OK. Once I get to the end of the first run I have a brief rest before starting again.
The second run through is more about the physical performance, reminding myself of the movement around the stage and the characterisations. I am very slightly tweaking the character of Fred, Scrooge’s nephew this year, as I want to give a nod to the actor Roger Rees who played him in the 1984 film starring George C Scott. Rees had also played the title role in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s epic production of Nicholas Nickleby, which completely changed my attitude towards the works of my great great grandfather. Sadly Roger died earlier this year, so I want to commemorate him in this small way.
With another complete run through under my belt, I put the TV on again and gently allow myself to drift off into a nap which lasts for an hour or so.
This afternoon I need to concentrate on another of my shows, Mr Dickens is Coming, that I will be performing in Tennessee on Monday. For years Mr Dickens was my staple show and I could recite it in my sleep, but I haven’t actually performed it for quite a while now, so it needs a run through, or two.
The day is moving on, and I have time for one more run through of A Christmas Carol, before I am due to be met for dinner.
In the back of my mind I remember something from last year and go scuttling back to the old blog posts: sure enough I find a passage that deals with changes I made to the movements during the 2014 tour, and which I am able to re-incorporate: these posts are actually quite useful!
At 6.15 I am showered and changed and waiting for Tom Davey to pick me up and take me to dinner. Tom is the president of The Dickens Victorian Village festival, and is my contact here. His wife Cindy is in the car and we drive to the nearby Country Club, where we are to dine.
A large table has been reserved and we are joined by Carol Goff, the owner of the Colonel Taylor Inn; Bob Ley, the local businessman who came up with the idea for the festival ten years ago and has been the driving force behind it ever since; and finally Connie Humphrey, who will be portraying Queen Victoria during the festival, and her husband Mike.
Sometimes meals like this can be very awkward and I feel that I am expected to ‘perform’, to be on show, but that definitely isn’t the case tonight. Everyone is genuine, friendly and chatty. Mike and Connie have spent many years abroad, thanks to Mike’s career as an attaché to the agricultural department of the US Government. They have lived in Moscow, Hong Kong, Singapore and many other amazing cities and are fascinating to listen to.
At the end of dinner I am telling a story about the time, many years ago, when I was reading The Murder of Nancy to some fellow performers in a Victorian House in Galveston. At the moment Bill Sikes’s fist battered into Nancy all of the electric lights in the house had fused and we were plunged into darkness. I was told by the owners of the house that it was haunted by a little girl who had met a violent death in the hallway and who hated any disturbance in her house.
The story ends by my memories of being alone in the house, with every light on, sat in the kitchen, terrified, when I heard a noise from the stair well. I investigated, and the stairs had become a waterfall – the torrent gathering in a pool at the base of the stairs over the very spot where the dead girl had fallen with a broken neck…..
As I finish the story Carol mentions that the Colonel Taylor Inn is haunted by a small, cheeky boy: no sleep tonight then!
It is time to leave, and we all say our goodbyes. It has been a productive day today, but tomorrow the real work begins, and I can’t wait!