My body clock is finally catching up with me and I sleep to a fairly decent time this morning. The blog seems to take a long time to write this morning, and I sip coffee and nibble a biscuit as I do it. Having posted my Nashua adventures I once again check on my new website and once again find that it is still not up.
My morning has a leisurely feel to it as I don’t need to leave the hotel until 10.30. Having finished on the laptop I get up and have a shower before going to the little lobby bistro (as Marriott have branded it), and spending a long time choosing a very large bowl of granola and strawberries.
Back up in my room I record a video message to send home and then start the process of packing. There should be a scientific paper written describing the phenomenon of ‘suitcase spread’, ie the ability of the contents of my cases to fill the available space, in this case a large suite. There seem to be bits everywhere, and I’ve only been here one night. Eventually I round everything up and get it back into my bags and leave the room.
I have a 2 and a half hour drive ahead of me this morning and I have downloaded the audio book of the first Inspector Morse novel, Last Bus to Woodstock, to accompany me. The book is narrated by Kevin Whately, who played Sargent Lewis in the television adaptation of the books, and it is odd to hear him being Morse, but the story is nicely written and helps to pass the time.
I am driving from New Hampshire, through Massachusetts to the Berkshires this morning and the route takes me right back past Shrewsbury (the location of my laundrette) and Worcester, before heading towards the Berkshire mountains, which is an area of the country that I have never visited before.
As I drive on the roads get quieter until I am suddenly aware of a huge amount of slow moving traffic ahead, all with hazard lights flashing. I am glad that I have plenty of time to spare as it looks like a major hold up. However I notice that other cars are overtaking in the left lane and as I drive up I see that this is along serpentine funeral convoy. All of the cars, and there must be over 50, are lined up behind the hearse, and each is displaying a little purple flag which says ‘funeral’. I have never seen this before and it is very moving. As I pass, very slowly, I wish I were wearing a hat, so that I could remove it out of respect.
The road starts to climb and now there are little flurries of snowflakes in the air. The pressure increases in my ears until they ‘pop’. The wooded terrain all around is white and beautiful and soon I am cresting a summit at the top of which a sign informs me that this is the highest elevation on the I-90 to the east of South Dakota, which seems terribly specific.
This being the highest elevation it is therefore inevitable that I start to descend again, and the scenery before me is an absolute winter wonderland. The snow is much heavier here and the boughs of the trees hang heavily laden. I am glad that I had asked Bob and Pam to make sure I had an all wheel drive vehicle, although the road itself is ok at the moment.
I drive through Lee, which is a gorgeous looking town with perfect New England churches and substantial wooden homes. My destination is Lenox which nestles in the shadow of the surrounding hills and soon I am pulling into the car park of another Courtyard by Marriott, which overlooks the valley and is covered with thick snow piles.
I get out of the car, smell the clear fresh mountain air and gaze at the beautiful vista before me. The snow is falling heavily now and I suddenly realise that this rental car did not come with one of those brush/scraper things. I may have a lot of clearing to do later!
The lobby of the hotel has a very familiar feel to it, as it is built to the same specifications as the one in Nashua. I am quickly checked in to room 226, which will be confusing as I was in 227 in New Hampshire, and have an hour or so to relax before driving to the venue. That gives me time to make a quick call to home and catch up on all the news.
At 2.15 I go back to my car and am relived the find that it isn’t buried, and make the short drive into Lenox and the Ventfort Hall Mansion. As I pull into the driveway I am instantly reminded of the description of Scrooge’s old school, which he visits on a snowy morning: ‘a mansion of dull red brick’.
Inside I am instantly greeted and welcomed and shown to the room where I am to perform. It is similar to the General Crook House in Omaha, in that a parlour has been converted into a small theatre, with a tiny stage at one end. The room is beautifully decorated with two twinkling Christmas trees, garlands and nutcrackers and will make a perfect setting.
I am introduced to Kelly who has arranged my visit here after seeing some information about me in a Williamsburg publication and then watching YouTube clips of my show online. The effort by the board, staff and volunteers at Ventfort Hall has been immense and they have managed to sell out completely, which is amazing. I hope that the snow doesn’t put people off, but nobody seems unduly concerned.
We sit in the parlour and consider how best to stage the show. With a chair, table, stool and hat stand on the tiny stage I wont have any room to move, but the last three items can all be placed on floor level. The chair is a little large, and I wonder aloud if there is a smaller one available? The request results in Haley being called for. Haley is in charge of all things practical to do with my show and is instantly efficient. Of course I can use another chair, lets go and find one. We walk from room to room throughout the mansion until I eventually decide on a small chair without arms, in a muted ochre colour which will not dominate the set. Easy!
Haley askes if I need a microphone? I don’t think so, not in this small room. OK, that’s fine, and in an instant the speakers the flanked the stage have disappeared. Sound effects? I have a CD of the opening one, but the other is on a USB drive. Oh yes, says Haley, I will run it from my laptop, and soon the files are on a playlist and she has a copy of the script printed out. This efficiency is impressive.
When the staging is fully sorted out I am shown to my dressing room, which is actually a magnificent lady’s morning room, with sumptuous chairs, elegant tables and even a chaise longue. One a table stands an ice bucket complete with a bottle of champagne and a bowl of strawberries – I don’t get this treatment everywhere I go, although sadly closer inspection reveals them to be plastic props to dress the room for the tours that visit the house.
When I have laid out my costumes on the chaise, I go back downstairs and chat a little to the lady manning the front desk, who says ‘isn’t Haley good? She is a theatre stage manager you know’ and suddenly all becomes clear.
The audience is beginning to arrive so I return to my sumptuous green room and start to get ready, and it is with horror that I discover that I haven’t put any black socks in my bag and the ones that I am wearing are bright red – not very fitting at all. Downstairs again.
‘Haley. One more thing. You may not be able to sort this one out, but I have forgotten to bring black socks, and only have these red ones. Would there be any chance that anyone has a spare pair?’
What happens? Haley disappears into an office and re-emerges with a brand new pair of black socks, still on their plastic hook. ‘These should do, although they do have silver tea cups on them!’
When I am in costume I go back to the parlour to discover it packed to bursting. There is an eager anticipation about the show and the promotion has been first class. Just after 4 Kelly gets up and welcomes the guests in her charming manner before introducing me. I walk through the very narrow central aisle, avoiding bags, hats and feet before arriving at the little stage.
One of the most enjoyable aspects of touring is the daily challenges in performing the same show, by which I mean making it work in a variety of venues. Last night I was in a cavernous theatre with lots of space to move and express myself in, whereas this afternoon I can only move two steps in either direction, and yet both situations lead to a fantastic experience.
Being so close to the audience there is a real feeling of intimacy and connection, whilst the snow outside adds to the feeling of a family gathering around a fire to listen to a story. As I talk about the school I remember my first view of the mansion and I can almost feel Scrooge and the spirit walking through the hall together.
In the front row are two women who have obviously seen the show before as they are laughing and giggling a few seconds before I have delivered certain lines (Supposin’….supposin’ being a particular case in point). The rest of the audience get the idea instantly and are with me all of the way, which is fabulous.
When I get to the scene at the low-browed beetling shop, when old Joe makes his entrance, I normally pull up my trouser legs to give the impression of short ragged trousers; I am about to do it today when I suddenly remember the twinkling rhinestone teacups on my socks, and abandon the plan.
It is a supremely successful show and the audience are very vocal in their appreciation.
Whilst I am back in my boudoir changing into a fresh costume there is a major re-setting downstairs, as the audience are now to be given a delicious tea and all of their chairs have to be moved from the parlour and into the hall. By the time I reappear tea is in full flow and there is a loud buzz of happy conversation. At the bottom of the stairs I am immediately accosted and for a while that becomes my station to sign and pose for photographs. It is rather nice to see that our 2017 souvenir brochure is selling well here and I sign a great many of them.
As I chat one of the board members, Mary Francis, thrusts a glass of sherry into my hand, which is terribly civilized. Eventually I am able to get to the table groaning with sandwiches, cakes, cookies scones and strawberries and fill up a plate. A lovely cup of black tea completes the feast and I am able to take a seat and eat my first meal since the granola this morning.
I chat to Kelly and Sharon, a local freelance journalist who interviewed me by phone last week when I was getting ready to perform in Ashford – back home. Our conversation is constantly disrupted (not interrupted, for that suggests rudeness and the people here are by no means rude), by audience members asking me to sign books and wanting to thank me for the show.
As tea comes to an end Mary Francis and Haley take me to various rooms in the house to pose for photographs that the they can include in the Mansion’s newsletter and maybe promotional materials for future events.
One important picture is of my socks! Oh, the tale will be told often.
It is 7 by the time I am ready to leave, and I am being taken out to dinner, which will be very nice. I brush the snow off the car and load it up, before following another car to a restaurant in the middle of Lenox. The roads are covered now and the AWD comes into its own. Our tiny convoy of two turns into a broad deserted main street lined with street lamps wound with Christmas lights. The snow is coming down and a wind blows flurries across the scene, for a moment I fully expect Jimmy Stewart to come running up the middle of the street with that gangling gait, shouting joyfully ‘Merry Christmas you wonderful old Building and Loan!’
My dinner companions are Mary Francis, Patrick and Stephen. Patrick is on the board at Ventfort Mansion, and also works as a set designer for the local Shakespeare theatre organisation, of which Stephen is the general manager and administrator. There is a huge arts scene in the Berkshires and the Shakespeare company is a major part of that. I try to convince them that they should stage the 8 hour Nickleby one summer, but I’m not sure that I succeed.
I eat a delicious fillet mignon and the company is excellent too. Outside the snow falls softly. Crème Brulee finishes the meal and a fabulous day.
I say goodbye to my new friends and the Rogue takes me safely back to the Marriott on the hill. I put the TV on and discover that one of the channels is showing Disney’s recent animated version of A Christmas Carol. I watch Scrooge walking up to his door, seeing Marley’s face in the knocker, walking upstairs to his room, sitting in his chair, hearing the bells ring…..and then I am asleep.