In my little suite at the Press Hotel I sit up in bed to drink coffee and write my blog, listening to the pouring rain outside. The rain was forecast and Jeff mentioned last night that some of the properties close to the sea may well be flooded, it is not going to be a nice morning to drive, that is for certain.
I let the morning drift on a little, before treating myself to the magnificent shower and getting ready for breakfast. The restaurant at the Press looks out over the street and the scene is every bit as bleak as the sound suggested. The rain is slicing down creating thousands of little eruptions on the surface of the streams that are cascading down the road. The few people that are out are hurrying under completely ineffective umbrellas, and car wipers are fighting a losing battle. But the real issue is not immediately apparent, it is only when I receive a message from Kate O’Brien that I am made aware of the true severity of the weather. In her message Kate thanks me and congratulates me on the show last night, but then goes on to say that the roads are treacherously icy and many Maine schools are closed because of the conditions.
The breakfast here is a rarity in that it is ordered solely from a menu – there is no buffet and I take quite a long time before ordering a standard eggs and bacon plate, but also a bowl of fruit to start, but not any old bowl of fruit! The best I can do is to quote directly from the menu:
Fruit and Quinoa Bowl.
Pineapple|Banana|Blueberry|Black Quinoa|Basil|Orange Blossom Ricotta|Local Honey.
When he bowl arrives t is not the most attractive dish I’ve ever been served, but OH! the taste! This is one of the most remarkable breakfast dishes I have ever had and it just feels so dammed healthy too. I think that this dish may have to be included on my contract rider in the future, and I can become a real diva – ‘Mr Dickens MUST have his quinoa fruit salad or he simply cannot go on today!’
Oh, and the bacon and eggs are nice too.
Having finished breakfast I decide to get on the road as soon as I am ready. Not only do I need to leave extra time to drive slowly and carefully but there is a very good chance that some of the roads will be blocked due to crashes and wrecks, and I don’t want turn up late at my first commitment which is at 11 am in New Hampshire.
Back in my room I pack my bags up, making sure that I have everything with me, and call to the bell stand so that my car can be retrieved from its hiding place and soon I am checking out at the front desk, and getting soaked as I make the brief run to the silver Rogue. The SatNav tells me that the journey to Nashua will take a little over two hours and off I set through the murky streets of Portland and onto the foggy, wet, crowded freeway.
The journey isn’t as bad as Id feared and everyone is driving safely and carefully. I notice that I am getting low on fuel and decide to stop at the same services where I had lunch on the way into Portland yesterday, however the fuel station is undergoing renovation and there are temporary pumps set up – with no cover over them: I don’t think so! I drive on.
A I make my way over the Piscataqua River and into New Hampshire the weather clears slightly, although that is a relative term. I have finished the Bond audio book now and am back into good old Christmas songs which accompany me towards Nashua.
The fuel situation is getting a little more critical, so I find a gas station not to far from my destination and fill the tank. The bill comes to $37, whereas my last refill in the UK (probably in a similar sized car) cost me almost £80, which would be around $102…never complain about your gas taxes America!
My first performance today is at the Nashua Senior Center, and I pull up into the car park at around 11.10, which is pretty good considering the conditions earlier. I have been performing here for the last five years and it is always a pleasure to return. As soon as I walk through the door I am warmly welcomed back. My performance is in a large meeting room, and the chairs are already set out. It is a sparse, bland, dull room but somehow the shows always work very well here. Today I am performing Nicholas Nickleby and that means locating a set.
My contact is Judy Porter, and she is used to me turning up with a list of requirements, so when I ask for a large book, a chair, a lectern and a screen that is tall enough for me to be hidden behind when I hang myself at the end of the show, she doesn’t bat an eyelid. We set off to tour the facility on a Victorian scavenger hunt. The chair is easy, fabric covered, wing back, check. Lectern – either a huge one, or a little table top affair? The latter. Check. The book is bizarrely more difficult as the fashion these days is to print the hard cover under the dust jacket, but eventually I find a fairly plain looking one that will suffice. Check. And so to the screen. After a false start when a rather expensive projection screen is produced, we eventually find a surgical screen on wheels which is about the right size. Judy then finds an old curtain in gold brocade and a roll of duct tape and in no time we have a ‘Victorian’ screen.
It may all be a bit makeshift, but it will do the job, and I ride down in the elevator comfortably sat in my arm chair.
Whilst we have been scouring the building Jody Gage has arrived downstairs. Jody runs Fortin Gage flower and gift store in Nashua and my events are arranged by him. We have worked together for many years (10, I think it is) and it is great to see him again.
I build the set to my exacting requirements and it looks like a truly magnificent recreation of that which the Royal Shakespeare Company used for their ground breaking production of the same story
Even an hour before the show the audience is beginning to arrive, so having placed all of the furniture, and the girls’ little toys, on my stage I retreat to the finance director’s office which has been appropriated as my dressing room, a large sign on the door announcing the fact to anyone who may have pressing financial queries.
I change into the all black costume that Nickleby requires and then go to the hall and watch the ever increasing audience take their seats. Another good friend has come to see the show too, Sandy Belknap used to work on all of the PR and marketing for my events here, and we have kept in touch over the years. Sandy actually saw the original 8 hour RSC production when it toured to Boston, so I have a lot to live up to this afternoon.
At 12.30 Jody makes a few announcements and then welcomes me to the stage. There is a warmth and generosity in the room and I know that I am in safe hands. I briefly introduce Nickleby, and then launch in. As I thought the audience lap it up: they laugh at Mr Squeers trying to teach his class f English spelling and philosophy, and they weep at S Smike’s death. There are gasps of horror as I slip the noose over my head and disappear behind the duct-taped-decorated screen and a giggle of relief when, after a long pause, I begin speaking again. Theatre is am amazing thing – in a bland room with no lighting except the fluorescent tubes above, a group of people can be taken into a story and fully believe it.
The standing ovation at the end is remarkable.
I sit at a table at the back of the hall and sign a few books (some very nice older copies which are treasured heirlooms), and pose for a lot of photographs. The Nashua Senior Center is an amazingly uplifting and positive place.
The only cloud on the horizon is my voice. Nickleby always takes a toll on my throat and I can feel that it is a little hoarse, a little scratchy, and I must protect it as much as possible. I get changed and say goodbye to Judy and Jody, before driving the short distance to my hotel. At the check in desk I give my name and the chirpy clerk tells me that my friend has already checked in! I tell her that there must be some mistake as it is only me travelling, and she checks her file – no, she is certain that my friend arrived just a short while ago. This seems odd, to say the least. The girl calls to another clerk who actually checked my ‘friend’ in – ‘a Mr Gage? Jody.’ Ah! Jody must have dropped by after leaving the centre to make sure that the room was ok and to pay for it. Phew!
The room in question is actually three rooms for I have a suite to luxuriate in. There is a large living room with a kitchen area at one end, a huge bedroom with a real, free standing warbrobe (you don’t see many of them in hotels these days) and a bathroom with a bath!
Having dropped my bags I go back to the lobby and have a salmon and roasted vegetable dish for lunch, and then return to my room to rest. I set an alarm, lay on the bed and fall asleep, which is a good thing to do.
My alarm wakes me at 4.45 and I have shower before getting ready for the evening’s show, which is being staged at the Nashua Community College auditorium, only a few minutes drive away, although the rush hour traffic is heavy.
I performed at the college last year for the first time and it is a very enjoyable stage to inhabit. The lighting and sound are looked after by Doug, who got very excited by the show last year and wanted to play about technically. We go into his sound box and I give him the files for the sound cues, which he has to run off somebody else’s laptop, as his is being utilised to project a wonderful London cityscape onto the backdrop.
We check the sound effects, and go through the fully marked up script so that he knows when to bring Sir Roger de Coverley in, and where any lighting changes can be made, should he feel so disposed (dispoged, as Mrs Gamp would say).
With the sound check complete I go to a little storage-cum-plant room next to the stage, which is filled with various items of cleaning and technical equipment as well as lots of chairs, and which will be my green room for the next few hours. There is a loudspeaker from the stage and I can hear the audience arriving, they sound a jolly and lively bunch. I sit and play Backgammon on my phone.
The show is due to start at 7 and this year Jody has arranged for a group of carol singers to open up. He welcomes them to the stage and they perform energetically and beautifully for fifteen minutes. The audience love them and applaud loudly after each song. As they go into ‘We Wish You a Merry Christmas’ I suddenly realise that we have missed a trick, for it would have been a perfect opening to the show to have Scrooge walk into their midst, scattering them with a wave of his cane and a ‘Bah, Humbug! Maybe next year.
As it is the show starts in its traditional way, except that the music cue keeps cutting in and out, which is frustrating. The first part of the performance is a little tired and lacklustre, and I am aware that my voice is not great, but the audience are responding well and things seem to be fine. However with the entrance of the Ghost of Christmas Present I find an extra gear and suddenly the evening pings into life! Energy returns, timing is better, and the whole thing takes on a new lease of life. By the time I get to the end the audience are whistling and stamping and shouting out loudly, which is fabulous.
I take my bows to Percy Faith’s stirring and rousing Deck the Halls and all is good! I change in my little plant room and go into the lobby where a long signing line has formed, the first lady crushes me in a hug, telling me that I have made her Christmas. Lots of signing and lots of smiling, and the group dwindles down to some great friends who come every year and who always wait to the end of the line. We chat about the girls back home, and about the changes to the show this year, and then pose for a final photograph before going our separate ways.
I pack everything up in the plant room, thank Doug for his help and leave the college with my costumes and roller bag.
Back at the hotel Jody and Sandy join me for a drink, and I have a large burger which I devour hungrily as we talk. These moments with good friends are always very special and once the hurly burly of the day is done it is wonderful just to relax.
Tomorrow I move on again, back into Massachusetts, and the tour is entering a slightly quieter few days now, which will be good for my energy levels and my voice, before the final few performances next week.
Back in my suite I tour the whole apartment turning lights and the very noisy air conditioning units (oh yes, plural!) off, before snuggling down to sleep.