Friday 14 December
Today sees me begin the UK leg of my Christmas Carol tour and takes me up the spine of the country to Newcastle-upon-Tyne in the far north east of England.
My flight home from Philadelphia last week was a relaxing one, as I had three seats to myself, even though the flight was very busy. I watched dear old ‘Singin’ in the Rain’, for the millionth time, and then ‘The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society’ which is back-lit, soft focus British filmmaking at its best!
My first job was to get all of my costumes dry cleaned before the next set of performances, and I had to give strict instructions that the trousers were to pressed with no creases at the front. One of the reasons for sourcing new grey trousers this year was so that they would be more authentically Victorian in style, and my costume guru David has stressed to me throughout the year that I must NOT have sharp creases in them. I was relieved when I picked them up that they had been pressed correctly.
At 11 am I say goodbye to Liz once more, the children being at school, and start a 5 hour drive. I still have the remnants of an Inspector Morse novel on my phone and he keeps me company as I make my way through the Midlands and into the North, basically following the route that the Roman armies took until they reached Hadrian’s wall running across the country at the Scottish border.
After a long and tiring drive I am welcomed to Tyneside by the open wings of the magnificent Angle of the North and soon am descending the hill into Newcastle and crossing the mighty Tyne by one of the many bridges which the city boasts.
My venue tonight is the Newcastle Literary and Philosophical Society, or the Lit&Phil as it is now known. I have performed here for the last two years and it is a great venue in a great city. Housed in a splendidly imposing building near to the main railway station in the City, the Lit and Phil can proudly boast the fact that it is the largest independent library outside London (a fact which must stick in the craw of those goodly folk who run the Bodleian Library in my home city of Oxford).
The City is bustling and busy but remarkably I am able to find a parking space right outside the building and the unloading of my furniture and props is the work of but a few moments.
I am greeted by Kay who organises my performances here (this will be my third appearance) and various other staff and volunteers as I set up the room for my show. The actual venue for my performance is a fairly bland room at the rear of the building, but we have a sell out audience tonight and I know from past experience that the atmosphere can be electric in here.
Once I have carefully arranged my chair, cloth, table, hat stand and stool (it is not a difficult get-in, it must be said), I descend to my dressing room which is maybe the most impressive that I have on tour, for I am in the oak-shelved, dusty book-lined Reference and Silence Room, where a clock loudly ticks the seconds and minutes. I have been told in past years that the room is haunted but as yet no spirits have come to visit me.
I change into my crisp, clean costume, and then sit and relax as the audience builds upstairs. Last year I performed the Carol at the very start of my tour, and I remember pacing around going over lines to myself. Tonight I can slip on the script with the same ease that I slip on my frock coat, and I am much more relaxed, indeed I even find myself practicing my golf swing with the gnarled cane that in an hours’ time will become Tiny Tim’s active little crutch.
The buzz of anticipation from the audience is a lovely sound and I wait just outside the door until I get the nod from Kay who then presses play on an impressive CD machine, thereby launching another performance.
The audience is restrained, as English audiences tend to be, but hang on every line of the script with the intensity you would expect from a Literary and Philosophical crowd. With such a crowd there is always a decision to be made regarding the audience participation elements of my show, which can just fall flat and lie as dead as a doornail if there is no response forthcoming. Tonight I decide to go for it and everyone dutifully joins in, which breaks the tension a little.
The applause at the end is remarkable in its intensity and length and I am called back for a second curtain call, which is very special indeed. Back in my Reference and Silence Room I change shirt, waistcoat and frock coat before going to mingle and chat with the audience.
Ian and I have decided to donate the profits from any souvenir programme sales made in the UK over the next couple of weeks to the Dickens Museum appeal to help buy the Lost Portrait of Dickens. If you missed my blog about this amazing story then it can be viewed at https://wordpress.com/post/geralddickens.wordpress.com/7351
Sales of programmes ad CDs go quite well and it is fun to chat and sign in such a relaxed way, rather than sitting at a desk with a long queue of people waiting patiently, as been the case in America over the last couple of weeks
The audience gradually drift away into the cold night and I return to the tick tock of my clock to change once more. By the time I remerge all of my furniture has been taken to the front door of the building and in a few minutes it is safely loaded up into the car. I say good bye to me good friends and head off to search for food.
Newcastle is a university city and on a Friday night in the week leading up to Christmas it is packed. After a few unsuccessful attempts to get into restaurants I go back to my little hotel and order a takeaway meal which is duly delivered to the front desk. I sit in my room watching TV whilst I eat.
It has been a long day, with a lot of driving, and I am certainly tired and ready for my bed. Tomorrow I start south again and will be performing at a new venue for me, in the beautiful Peak District town of Buxton. There is bad winter weather forecast for this weekend, and my drive could be a difficult one so I will need to be on the road good and early, just in case.
I shall see you there.