The heavy drapes in the bedroom effectively shut out the morning light, so although it feels as if it is the middle of the night when we wake, it is actually 6.30 and time for coffee.
I write for a while, before we get ready for breakfast which is served in The Regency Room and is one of the high points of the tour. We are seated close to the wall, and it is interesting to view the room from the audience’s viewpoint. When I am performing I am always very aware of the tables back here, but actually we are surprisingly close to the action.
We both choose the buffet over à la carte and start off with moist creamy Bircher muesli, with a pecan and maple granola sprinkled over the top. Scrambled eggs follow, along with bacon and sausage. I add a small croissant with raspberry jam to bring the delicious meal to a close.
Sadly we can’t linger for too long, as I have a photo shoot booked for this morning, so that Williamsburg can market my future visits (which is good news). We go back to the room, where I get into costume and descend our staircase (a magnificent circular staircase which actually serves an entire wing, but as it leads to the door of our suite we regard it as ours. There is a black and white photograph of the Queen making her way down the same stairs and she probably regarded it as hers too.)
The shoot is to be in the East Lounge, a really lovely function room. The team who will be taking the pictures are gathered as we arrive and are ready to begin. The shoot is being overseen by Jorin, the producer is Shanin, the photographer is Darnell, while his counterpart on the video camera is Ryan. The team is completed by Charlie who is the gofer and getter.
The team are so professional and obviously very used to working together: ideas scarcely seemed to be formed in Shanin’s head when Darnell starts to create the picture she wants. Jorin moves the light a foot this way or that and another effect is created. I sit in a chair and read a book (which is not A Christmas Carol) while Darnell clicks away. In the background Ryan moves silently with the steady-cam, getting the footage he needs without ever interrupting the main photo shoot. It is truly a seamless operation.
Now, Shanin wants pictures taken from outside, looking through the window over my shoulder. Charlie disappears and returns with a ladder and Darnell climbs up. Instructions are relayed to me, via Jorin at the door: ‘Hold the book higher up. Closer to you. Tilt you head to your left.’ Suddenly there is a squeal of delight from outside as Shanin sees that the shadow of a sprig of holly in my hat band is cast across the page. I make sure I don’t move my head, or the book, so that the effect can be successfully captured.
With the outdoor shoot finished the team comes back inside and ask me to continue reading. Rather than performing in my big theatrical style I just recite the words as if I were talking to a small group sat around the fire. It is lovely to let the language do the work without battering it with acting, and I thoroughly enjoy the impromptu performance. Liz and I chat between pictures and we both think what a lovely event it would be to do a smaller, more intimate performance in here.
I am sat near a Christmas tree and the guests of the Inn have been encouraged to write their Christmas wishes on small cards, which are then hung for all to see. The notes range from the laudable (‘Peace on the Earth’), to the political (‘Make America Great Again’), to the wonderfully specific (‘Can I please have 3 dog toys for my little dogs. Merry Christmas’).
Jorin has been keeping an eye on his watch as he is determined not to overrun the 1 hour time slot they have been allocated and sure enough at 11 o’clock it is a wrap. Not only were the team fantastically professional and efficient, but they were also extremely nice people – there can be a lot of egos in any artistic industry, but there were none in the East Lounge today.
We say good bye and swap business cards before once more ascending into our palatial quarters, where I change and then finish off writing the blog. We have a little time to ourselves now, so decide to stroll along Duke of Gloucester Street, the main thoroughfare of historic Williamsburg.
During the years before the Bostonians had their tea party, Williamsburg was the capital of the colony of Virginia and a centre of commerce. As revolutionary thoughts began to stir it was here that George Washington assembled a force to take on the British.
During the late 19th and early 20th centuries Williamsburg fell on hard times and became just another Virginian town, but in the 1930s J D Rockefeller threw squillions of dollars at a restoration plan. The result is the magnificent living museum which now exists here. Along Duke of Gloucester the houses are either genuinely restored or perfectly recreated, and life carries on around, and in spite of, the many tourists. The stores are staffed by costumed reenactors who greet the visitors in period language, whilst swiping the credit cards.
A horse drawn carriage rumbles down the streets, and is pulled up next to a large cart painted in yellow and black – it looks rather like a Georgian school bus!
We stroll, admire, take photographs and just enjoy the whole ambience of Williamsburg. We pop into the Bruton Parish Church, where Ryan was singing last night, and look at the various President’s names that are inscribed on the ends of the pews – including John Tyler who was the incumbent when Charles Dickens visited the USA in 1842. Tyler met Dickens at the Whitehouse, but my ancestor wasn’t terribly impressed by what he saw, commenting on the large spittoon which sat next to the President. I ask a guide about the relevance of Tyler’s name being here, and she explains that he hailed from just a few miles away, and attended the Bruton Church.
We reach the end of the street, and buy some sandwiches before walking back to the hotel, where we sit and eat before my afternoon show.
From a performance point of view the day is a repeat of yesterday, with a tea at 2.30 and dinner at 7. Having so enjoyed the gentle reading in the East Lounge this morning, I am keen to try something new this afternoon, as well as to integrate some suggestions from Liz, who has seen the show with metaphorically fresh eyes over the last few days.
John is back to introduce me again, and as soon as he finishes I put the first change into place: Liz has noticed that when Scrooge first appears at Marley’s funeral, and at a few other moments in the story, he is very infirm, apparently extremely elderly and hobbling his way along on his cane. However, when he is in the office battling with his nephew and berating Bob Cratchit, he appears to be much more sprightly. For Scrooge to be believable he has to be the same man physically throughout, so I give him a firmer step from the outset.
The other change is to lighten the narrative and to make it more like this morning’s reading, and suddenly the show is back to where it was last year – it is less ponderous and the words seem to trip lightly from my lips to the audience. I have been aware throughout this tour that somehow I have lost a gentleness and delicacy in the storytelling, but this afternoon it has returned, and I couldn’t feel happier!
The audience are great fun and I thoroughly enjoy the whole show. Let’s hope I can seal this memory and repeat it in the rest of my shows this year.
The Rockefeller Room is being used for dining this evening, and the staff are already preparing it, so I run back to our room to change, before returning to the lobby where the wonderfully patient group are waiting, books and programmes in hand.
When we are finished Liz and I meet up with Leroy, who used to be in charge of the Regency Room, and ran it with military precision. For years Leroy has been threatening to retire, but we never quite believed him; however this year he has done the deed. He has come into the hotel just to say hello, and we spend a very happy time chatting and catching up with our respective news. Liz takes some photos of us together in front of the tree, and then she joins in and more pictures are taken. As we chat Christine Vincent, who also used to work at the Inn, arrives with her husband Erich, and everyone is now catching up with everyone else! Time is a little short between the shows, and we need to get back to our room for some down time before the dinner. We say a final farewell to Leroy and leave him chatting to Christine as we head upstairs.
It is with great sadness that when Liz checks her phone we discover that none of the pictures actually took, so we have no pictorial memories of our good friend.
The gap between the shows seems shorter today, and in no time it is once again time to costume up and head for the dining room. Ryan and his wife Jeanne are having dinner with us tonight which means good company and conversation. We are sharing our table with three other guests from South Carolina, who are fun also. As we eat, the conversations steers around Presidential elections and Brexit, before settling into golf, and specifically the Ryder Cup competitions, many of which our companions have travelled to watch: we are all rather jealous of them.
We are so wrapped up in our talk, that it is almost a surprise to find the banquet captain standing at my shoulder suggesting that it may be a good time to start the show, if it’s not too much trouble! Ryan makes a short introduction while I wrap the scarf around my neck and put the top hat on my head, and almost before I know it the music is playing and I am in character.
I try to replicate this afternoon’s lighter and pacier narration of the story and things seem to move through well again. The audience is attentive, although not boisterous and some of the interactive scenes are hard work (they seem to be particularly unimpressed by Mrs Cratchit’s cannonball-like pudding), but on the whole it is a lovely show and I am very pleased with the progress that I have made today.
I make my run through the elegant corridors of the hotel back to the room, so that I can get into my dry costume for the signing. As I make my way I undo my cravat, unbutton my waistcoat and unclip my braces (ascot, vest and suspenders for those reading on the western edge of the Atlantic), so that by the time I am at our suite I can change quickly. By the time I get back to the lobby the line has already formed. I return my microphone to Donald, and thank him for all of his help over the four performances, and then go to my desk, where the session starts. Liz is sat on a sofa chatting with Ryan and Jeanne, and watches me as I sign. Every so often our eyes meet and we exchange a ‘it-would-be-nice-to-be-together-now’ glance, but the signing is just as an important part of the performance as remembering the lines, and I have always greatly enjoyed meeting the audiences when a show has finished.
People are fulsome in their praise tonight, and it is with a happy heart, although a rather weary body, that I eventually join Liz, Ryan, Jeanne, Christine and Erich on the sofa. Normally we would all repair to the little bar, but we have an early start in the morning and will need to pack for a flight to Minneapolis, and the final venue on this year’s trip.
We make our excuses, say our goodbyes, promise to meet up again next year, and return to the room.
Our last night coddled in the warm embrace of Williamsburg will be a sadly short one.