After the success of last night, I sleep until almost 8am, which is a luxury. I don’t have any sort of early start today, although I do have to collect my props from the Town Hall at some stage, so I make some real coffee in the little cafetiere mug that Susie gave me back in Omaha. The smell of fresh coffee is so good, matched by the taste: much better than the little sachets of Nescafe that are the staple of English hotels.
Roomzz doesn’t have a restaurant or breakfast area, but instead has a little pantry, so I stock up with some fruit, pastries and a bowl of porridge, before returning to my room where I eat whilst watching the morning news.
At around 9.30 I shower and then walk the short distance to retrieve my car, which is still in the garage behind the Town Hall. I park on the double yellow lines and set my hazard lights flashing in that internationally accepted way – ‘I know I am parked illegally, but if the lights are flashing it is OK’.
It is strange to walk into the empty hall and remember the noise and cheering that filled the space last night. With the help of the duty manager I load the car up and take it back to the hotel, where I pack and check out.
Although I do not have a show until this evening, I want to get over to Liverpool to give myself time for some Christmas shopping in the wonderful Liverpool 1 shopping centre.
The weather is awful as I head towards the Birkenhead Tunnel and on some stretches of motorway I can hardly see the road in front of me. Soon I am making my way beneath the Mersey before emerging into the daylight, and clearing weather.
I find a car park near to the Liver building and make my way into the shops with thousands of others. Liverpool 1 is an excellent complex – not a mall as such, but a cleverly designed open-air collection of shops on many various levels. It is wonderfully decorated and there is a definite sense of Christmas in the air, which is in stark contrast to the Mall of America in Minnesota where Liz and I were less than a week ago.
Obviously I can’t go into too much detail as to where I shopped and what I bought, but I can say that with many others I helplessly looked at an awful of things that I did NOT want to buy.
All of the restaurants are very busy, so I decide to stroll down to the riverside and see if I can get something to eat in the Museum of Liverpool, and am rewarded by an almost empty café where I have a chicken and bacon pie, with some sparkling Lime and Jasmine drink. This afternoon I have an interview on BBC Radio Mersey, so I spend a little time researching Dickens and Liverpool, before returning to my car.
Charles Dickens loved the city, as it was a bustling, thriving, energetic port. He had spent much of his childhood in Royal Naval ports, thanks to his father’s employment, and never lost that sense of excitement and adventure that a seafaring community has. He departed from Liverpool when he travelled to America, and gave many performances and speeches here. His tour manager, George Dolby said that, other than London, Liverpool was his favourite city and that the Concert Room in St George’s Hall (where I am to perform later today), was his absolute favourite venue, calling it ‘the most perfect hall in the world’
He performed in Liverpool more than in any other town, with the exception of London, and it was a stop on every one of his reading tours. It seems to me that the Dickens family should do something to honour Charles’ connection with the city – a plaque at the least, but why not another statue at the docks, or even a boutique hotel in his name?
I am due to meet Malcolm at 2.30 and he will take me to the BBC studios, where I am to be interviewed by Liverpool legend Billy Butler. I just have time to check in to my hotel, the Shankly Hotel, which is an homage to the great Liverpool Football Club manager, Bill Shankly. It is an amazing hotel filled with quotes and memorabilia of the great man. I make my way up to my room and unlock the door which has a plush vinyl covering (I assume to represent a football), and a large brass knocker.
The room itself is beautifully designed in a French style. It has a real free-standing wardrobe, and an elegant little desk. The bathroom features a huge jacuzzi bath, with a large square shower head attached to the ceiling in the middle. Very very nice, indeed.
Over the bed, somewhat disturbingly, is a large panel describing a gentleman’s memory of Bill Shankly, and the words are accompanied by a large photograph looking down at me.
Quite apart from the plush furnishings, the hotel has another great advantage in that it is only a 2-minute walk from the magnificent St George’s Hall. I only have time to drop my bags in my room, before I have to meet Malcolm so I make my way through St John’s Gardens and into one of the grandest buildings you will ever see.
The BBC studios are only a short walk away, and Malcolm and I are soon sat in the greenroom waiting for my slot. I am not filled with too much confidence when the researcher comes to chat: ‘So, it’s Gerald, yes? Gerald Jackson?’ we correct him, but wonder what course the interview will take.
Eventually after the inevitable news, traffic and weather bulletins, I am ushered in to the studio where Billy and I talk until the music track reaches its end and we are ready to start the interview for real. Well, he gets Dickens right, but calls me Gerard instead of Gerald, it is not surprising as the name Gerard, or Gerrard to be precise, is a famous one on Merseyside – Stephen Gerrard being one of the great heroes of Liverpool Football Club (those who don’t already know will be beginning to realise that football is a religion here. It was Bill Shankly who famously said ‘football is not a matter of life and death; it’s much more important than that’).
During the interview Billy concentrates most of all on the various film versions of A Christmas Carol, and leaves me in no doubt that the Alastair Sim version is the favourite but ONLY in black and white: ‘the story only really works in black and white, doesn’t it? The ghosts are more frightening that way.’ Maybe I should issue some monochrome glasses to the audience at my show, so they can enjoy it properly….
Actually the interview is slightly unnecessary as the shows are very nearly sold out, with just a few tickets for tomorrow’s matinee, but it is an opportunity to give Age UK a plug, which I manage to do before our segment ends.
We walk back to the hall, and get set up for the evening, which is not as simple as we may have thought: there is a large grand piano on the stage and the choir will be using it. When they have finished, the piano will have to be pushed to the back of the stage and my furniture put into place, before I start the show.
I have a large room all to myself as a dressing room, and I hang all of my costumes up so that the creases of travel can fall out. I have a couple of hours before I need to get ready, so I return to The Shankly where I treat myself to a hot, deep, luxurious bath, followed by an energising shower.
Night is falling as I walk back to the Hall and some audience members are already gathering in the cavernous entrance hall. I go to my dressing room and slowly prepare. Just before the choir is due to start (indeed, they are already on stage), there is a slight kerfuffle at the door: Malcolm has made a mistake with a booking, and a group, who were supposed to have reserved seats thanks to a special promotion, have turned up to find no such seats are available. Malcolm had thought they were coming tomorrow, and even has the RESERVED signs ready. The mistake is his, and he and his staff bend over backwards to make up for the error. 6 seats together are found, and Malcolm asks me if I can meet and shake the people’s hands after the show. He buys them all a souvenir programme, as well as a bottle of Prosecco, and by the time they are seated everything possible has been done to make the party feel special.
The choir is superb again, and the acoustics in this magnificent hall are perfect for such a concert. I slip upstairs to the balcony and love listening as the various harmonies float and merge in the circular, domed room.
My time is coming, however, so I go back to the dressing room, gulp some water and pop a Fisherman’s Friend into my mouth, breathing the menthol deep into my throat. On stage the piano has been moved, but my furniture has all been placed in a little group in the centre of the stage. I hiss from the wings (making sure that my microphone is not on): ‘Malcom! Malcom! Table and chair over there…further, yes right! Hat stand next to it! OK, stool over to the left, further. More forward. No…..Oh, it will do!’
Malcolm and the team leave the stage, and the music starts. I start the slow walk to Marley’s graveside and suddenly realise that in all of the panic I haven’t finished the Fisherman’s Friend which seems to have swelled and is now filling my mouth. The first bell tolls: crunch, chew, swallow. Second bell: crunch more. Third: swallow, dammit, swallow!! Fourth: gulp. Here goes….
I do a slightly shorter version of the show tonight, as with the choir the first act is very long for the audience. I keep the extra Marley passages in, but lose the second scene in Scrooge’s school, and Mr Fezziwig doesn’t get to dance tonight.
Charles certainly knew what he was talking about for the Concert Hall is indeed a wonderful room to play – it is intimate and alive and energetic. It is extraordinary to think that I have exactly the same view (give or take a few bonnets and top hats), as Charles had 158 years ago. His eye roved across the chairs on the floor, and looked up to the faces craning over the iron rail of the balcony. He must have paused before delivering a line that he knew would get a laugh, as I pause. The Dickens voice would have cut the stillness, knowing that every person in the room was fully immersed in the story. I have never felt more connected to my great great grandfather than I do tonight.
The interval comes and I sit in the dressing room trying to keep my focus: this show is too good to spoil now.
After about half an hour the audience return and following the raffle draw (I assume Charles didn’t have to wait for a raffle!), I return to my chair. The second half is even more powerful than the first, and the silence that sees Scrooge’s arrival at the Cratchit’s dwelling is truly astounding. I don’t usually allow myself to think about CD, or think if he is able to witness what I am doing, but tonight it is definitely as if there is a benign spirit with me on stage, and I embrace his presence gratefully
The story progresses towards its end and as I take my bows I am almost in tears: I can’t remember a reception like this. Cheering, waving, clapping, shouting, stamping: Oh my, oh my. Of course Charles received receptions like this when he stood on these boards, and must also have been so moved also.
I leave the stage with a final wave and sit in my dressing room breathing very deeply for a moment, before remembering that I am meeting the six audience members who were supposed to have the reserved seats. I change quickly, and am slightly more composed by the time there is a knock on the door. They loved the show, and were so grateful to Malcolm and his team for sorting everything out so generously. We chat for a while and they ask questions about the show and my tour. I sign the programmes and shake their hands, before following them down into the great stone foyer where a line winds around like Marley’s chains.
It is a lovely session, and everyone is gushing about the show – some who have seen it before and some who have managed to get tickets for the first time. There are a couple on holiday from Nova Scotia who ask me to come to Halifax to perform, and who pose for pictures to take home with them.
It has been a long, intense and incredibly emotional evening for me, and I know that I won’t get to sleep until late tonight. I tidy up my dressing room, making sure that all of the costumes are properly hung on the rail and then walk into the night back to the Shankly hotel, and as I stand outside my door fumbling with the key card my attention is attracted to the brass door knocker: what was that?….
‘Well done, dear boy. WELL done! It IS the most perfect hall in the world, isn’t it?’
No, surely not! I put the key in the lock, open the door and go in.
My tears mixed with yours for what must have been a fantastically moving and special show. Who says our ancestors can’t be a part of our lives. To paraphrase Tiny Tim: “God bless you, special man.”