The day starts early which gives me plenty of time to write two blogs, assisted by caffeine from the Keurig coffee maker discretely hidden in its own little niche.  I think the real mark of a quality hotel is when it has a niche for the coffee maker.

Having finished my writing it is time to go to breakfast in the stylish restaurant, beneath the stained glass dome.  There is a nice continental breakfast laid out, but knowing that I may not have a substantial lunch today I plump for a ‘Traditional English’.  I have mentioned before that the award to best breakfast of the tour is up for grabs this year and I have to say that The Beechwood may be well up there.  I’m not sure that a traditional English breakfast would come served with slithers of orange and lime, not to mention a large pot of ketchup on the side, but it is delicious nonetheless.


I have the rest of the morning free as my sound check at the Vaillancourt venue is not until 12, so I am able to watch the qualifying session from the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, before starting to get ready.

The first job is the press my costume trousers, and to that end I use a linen napkin that accompanied the complementary bowl of fruit that had been waiting in my room.


The trousers are new for this years tour and are a much more tradition cut, with buttons for the braces.  When the creases have been eradicated I attach a pair of braces to each pair of trousers (could there ever be a sentence that so illustrates the differences between our common language?) and carefully fold them over the hanger, along with the two waistcoats and frock coats.  In my little roller case I pack enough shirts for the four shows, along with cufflinks, watch, cravats, shoes, socks, Fisherman’s Friends, the ‘Tiny Tim’ cloth and my two little soft toys who will watch the show.

I still have time to kill, and I decide to try and use a new sound effect today, so get to work on the computer until the file is saved to my USB stick.

11 o’clock is approaching and it is time to leave.  The day is cold and crisp, with piles of snow that had been cleared a few days ago becoming grey and dirty at the side of the road.  The drive to Sutton, where the Vaillancourts are located, is about twenty minutes, but I want to stop off at the large Wal-Mart in the way to buy the items that I had forgotten to pack (ie some deodorant and some gloves).  With my purchases complete I return to my car and am amazed to see a little bright green Mazda 2 pulling into a space nearby – why amazed? Because that is Liz’s car back home and the splash of green in an otherwise bland scene is a vivid reminder of her.


I continue the short drive to the little town of Sutton and pull up outside the mill buildings that house the Vaillancourt Folk Art store and manufactory. Gary, The store is a riot of colour and glitter, lavishly decorated to best create an ambience of Christmas cheer, and in the midst of the tinsel and glitter are hundreds of chalkware santa figures, each carefully designed, moulded, painted and finished right here.



My first duty is to go to the small theatre that is created for my shows, and perform a sound check.  In previous years this has been the work of a moment as Randy, the sound engineer, had worked with me many times and knew the ins and outs of the show and my performance.  However this year things have changed.  In the corresponding blog post last year I wrote:

‘Randy has not been in good health this year, but points out that three of the best hospitals are located nearby, and he is in expert hands.’

The truth of that statement was much bleaker.  Randy had looked grey, weak and drawn and we talked at great length between my shows.  In his heart of hearts he knew that his condition was terminal and he died of cancer just a couple of months after my visit.  Randy was a true professional and took huge pride in doing the best job possible to make me sound good.  He loved the show and talked about any changes I had made.  I will miss him a great deal.

The new sound engineer is Darren and straight away it is obvious that he is equally professional.  He has a collection of microphones, and strongly advises a head mic for the superior sound quality that it produces.  I fight my corner and hold out for a clip on lapel mic, as the head ones always fall off my ears meaning that I am forever trying to hook them back on, which disrupts the show.  Darren gives in gracefully and we spend a good fifteen minutes checking levels and balances, all of which is done from a tablet.  Getting the sound cues into Darren’s phone isn’t the work of a moment and involves emailing them from Luke’s computer, but eventually everything is where it should be.


With the sound check complete I go into the store and meet all of the staff who have been here for many years (it is a major testament to Gary and Judi that they have such a loyal group of people working for them).  Soon Luke’s wife Anna arrives with the explosion of energy that surrounds their two little boys, Nate and Charley.  Soon the two boys are running around the stage giving impromptu performances to me, their parents and two sets of doting grandparents!

By this time there is an hour to go before showtime and I retreat to my little dressing room deep in the back of the warehouse.  On a wall, partially hidden behind a huge air conditioning unit, is a recreation of the original Fezziwig illustration, showing Mr and Mrs F dancing at their party.  Today they will have a real tune to dance to…..


As the show time gets ever closer I start getting into costume and making sure that everything is where it should be. Darren fits me with my microphone and we do a brief sound check to make sure everything is OK, and then the doors are opened for a capacity crowd to take their seats.

I enjoy standing at the back of the room as the audience arrives, and exchanging greetings with those who have attended the show on multiple occasions.  This seems like a  good, noisy, lively crowd which bodes well.

At 2pm Gary goes to the stage and welcomes everyone in his inimitable style – a true showman.  Having given away some prizes to those lucky people who have tickets on the bottom of their chairs (including an unexpected winner whose ticket had remained on the chair for twelve months), Gary finishes up and launches the show.


Lights dim.  Sound effect.  Slow walk through the audience to the stage.  Begin.

Marley was dead, to begin with.  I am thinking about Randy.

The show is a little slow to get going, and maybe I am suffering a little from jetlag, but it soon pics up and the audience joyfully join me in the novel.  We arrive together at Fezziwig’s party and go in, and when the fiddler strikes up Sir Roger de Coverley, so my new music effect comes in bang on cue.  I have found a lovely solo fiddle version of the old country dance tune, and it fits perfectly into this moment of the show.  Darren has followed the script diligently and fades the tune out again as the scene itself fades into the mists of Scrooge’s past.

We get to the Cratchit’s Christmas lunch and the audience to my left gasp in delight at Mrs Cratchit’s goose, which puts me in a rather awkward spot because normally I mockingly berate them for NOT joining in and go to the stage right audience, who become the poor family for the rest of the show.  The fact the my friends on the left respond so enthusiastically  I means I have to keep them, which necessitates reversing all of the blocking for the rest of the show!

As I get into the closing stages of the show my microphone somehow manages to unclip itself and work itself down the sleeve of my coat, which is very adventurous of it.  When I sorrowfully remove my coat as a tearful Bob Cratchit, the microphone gets further tangled and I have to perform the rest of the show with a black wire dangling around my shoulder accompanied by a series of rustles and bangs, which Darren does his best to control.

‘Scrooge got dressed all in his best’  I flip the top hat in the air and it SO nearly lands sands squarely on my head, that the audience gasp in anticipation.  It teeters there for a moment before slipping to the floor, but this is my best effort so far this year!

The show finishes and the audience stand to applaud as I come back to take my bows.  This is a lovely venue to perform in, so friendly and intimate, and the high I get from a good show here is almost as intense as any venue.

I make my way back past the cardboard Mr and Mrs Fezziwig and change into a dry costume before going into the store where I chat and pose and sign for 30 minutes or so.  The audience members are generous with their comments and it is so nice to hear how many come back year after year .

When the signing is over I go back to my dressing room and change back into regular clothes, and have a bit of a rest.  Soon supper is served in Gary’s office and many of the staff join us to eat delicious soup, salads and deserts which have become a tradition in their own right.

I still have an hour before I need to get ready again, so I go to the theatre, change the batteries in my mic pack, re set the stage and then curl up on a little sofa and get some sleep.

The evening show is another sell-out and I go through the same routine of preparation and standing at the back of the room as the audience arrives.  They seem a slightly more subdued group than this afternoon, but soon Gary is back doing his thing, being spectacularly politically incorrect, which leaves Luke and Judi shaking their heads and fearing a social media backlash.

And then it is showtime.  Lights, sound effect. Walk.  ‘Marley was dead…..’ and I instantly know that the microphone is not working.  I have a choice, I can either stop the show, let Darren sort it out, and then re-start, or I can just get on with the performance.  The room is not large and if I were doing this in the UK I wouldn’t even think about using a mic, so I decide to continue.  The danger in a situation like this is to over compensate and strain my voice, so I am very careful not to overdo it.  The audience are obviously hearing the words, and their response are excellent (from being a subdued group coming in they actually turn out to be a remarkable energetic bunch!), so I continue to perform unplugged.

The Fezziwig music comes in on cue, so the sound system is obviously OK, the problem must be with the microphone, but I need to forget that and just concentrate on the show.  The performance is better than the matinee and the audience leap to their feet at the end, whistling, cheering and whooping their appreciation.

As before I leave the theatre to get changed before signing.  I check the microphone pack and see that when I changed the batteries I flicked the mute switch on. Stupid error.  I should have checked it, Darren should have checked it, we should have checked it together.

In the store the signing line is much shorter this evening, mainly because most of the audience have been to the performance multiple times and have bought everything that there is to be bought, so have nothing to sign, however there are plenty of handshakes and sincere comments of congratulation.

And now it is time to leave.  I hang all of my costumes up in readiness for tomorrow and with Gary as a passenger head back to the hotel where we have some wine and desserts to wind down.  Judi and Luke join us soon, and we spend a wonderful evening coming up with fabulously extravagant plans for a summer Dickens festival, featuring fine dining, shows, lectures and trips. We have often had fabulously extravagant ideas in this bar and none of them have come to fruition yet, but there’s always a first time!

When I retire I think back on the goings on today: two shows, two unforeseen complications involving the sound, and the memories of a friend who looked after me on stage:  Marely was dead, but he came back to look after Scrooge……

Randy?  surely not….