Sunday, 26 March. D day minus 2.
We are very definitely in the final stages of preparation for the performance itself now. From here on in there will be no major changes (although there have been very few big alterations to the show since we started rehearsing just over a week ago), and we must fettle the performance to as near perfection as we can collectively manage.
Sunday, as regular readers will know, is a difficult day for us, as the Wesley center reverts to its natural use during the day, meaning that Ben and Bob and Michael had to clear the entire set on Saturday night. We all had to wait until 2pm before we could do any meaningful work (although I had done my customary morning run through in my apartment).
As soon as the morning service had ended operation To Begin With swung into action and the three large picture windows, a leather chair, a table, a chaise longue, a pouffe, and various canes, coats, robes, hats and waistcoats were carefully moved into their correct places. Once more had the Old Wesley Centre been transformed into Winterbourne House, Bonchurch, Isle of White, Hampshire, England: the summer residence of Mr Chas. Dickens Esq.
In the meantime I was getting into costume, which included a few last minutes tweaks thanks to Bob’s assiduity. At one point in the script I am required to pull two handkerchiefs from my shirt cuffs with a flourish (as a magician might do), and that requires them being carefully hidden in my sleeves for the majority of the play. Unfortunately the shirt cuffs are a little loose, so the hankies have been slipping out long before they were needed. Bob, therefore, had made a couple of elastic bands that fit tightly round my wrists in which the linen can be gripped until the required moment.
Once fully attired (to tie my cravat I have to use the mirror in a small restroom, and the movement of my arms always sets off the automatic paper towel dispenser!), I made my way to the theatre where everyone was ready for our 2.30 start. This really felt like a full dress rehearsal: no stops, no hesitating, no re-working sound cues – it was do it, or bust.
I felt a great surge sense of nervous anticipation and energy as I waited at the back of the hall, which increased a step as the opening music began. I waited for the chiming bells, and marched down the central aisle, up the steps (didn’t trip up them) and found myself in blazing light ready to begin.
It was a very good run. Oh, it was hot under the full glare of the lights, and I could feel the moisture on my brow, which I hope wont effect the security of my wig during the actual shows.
I was very pleased with the performance, which ran incredibly smoothly from all departments – sound cues were perfect, lighting was subtle and atmospheric, costume changes went smoothly and the lines were about as good as I have ever got them.
It was so nice to do a full 90-minute run, without breaking for notes in the middle, and to get a real sense of the flow. We have a really really good show on our hands, there is no doubt about that.
As soon as we had finished, it was time to convert Winterbourne back into a church again, for the evening service so as Ben and Michael and Bob heaved furniture around, I got changed before heading upstairs to Dennis’ office where we went through all of the notes.
Of course what an actor (and I presume a sound and lighting engineer) wants to hear more than anything is: ‘perfect, nothing to say, keep it like that!’ but naturally that never happens, there is always something that can be improved and tweaked.
We sat and listened as Jeffrey ran through scene by scene, and we took our own notes (I will sit and study mine over breakfast). Dennis chimed in with his observations and comments and we made some slight revisions to the script so as to reflect the true meaning of the gospels rather than the simplified version that Dickens provided for his children (for example, in The Life Of Our Lord Dickens announced that King Herod ordered all the children under the age of two years in his dominions to be killed, whereas in fact he ordered all the male children in Bethlehem to be killed – one extra word in the script and we have corrected a historical inaccuracy).
With the notes finished we all went our separate ways – mine took me to the nearby Brits Pub for dinner where I had, what else? but Bangers and Mash!