Thursday, 20 December
I want to begin by mentioning two incidents that occurred yesterday that I forgot to mention in yesterday’s blog post:
You will recall that 19th December marked the 175th anniversary of the first publication of A Christmas Carol and at the evening show when Lynne announced the fact from the stage the audience broke out into a long and heartfelt applause. If there is such a thing as a spirit world, then what a wonderful thing for Charles Dickens to hear from above.
The second incident may also have been guided by the spirit hand of CD. On the set there is a small table which is where I place the carefully folded cloth to represent Tiny Tim’s frail little body. On the table is a candle in a brass candle stick, and usually the candle remains unlit as most venues don’t like live flames on stage. St George’s Hall however were surprisingly co operative and I was able to light the candle, which adds the scene even more poignancy. The candle in the stick was quite a small one, and burnt down during the course of the show. By the time I reached the point where Bob sits next to Tim the candle was almost gone, and at the very moment – and I mean the absolute instant that he kissed Tim’s face before laying his body down to rest the candle popped and died.
Of course the rational explanation is that the candle had around 90 minutes of life left in it and it after 90 minutes had passed it burnt out. The moment in the show was completely coincidental and it could equally have happened in Old Joe’s shop, or on the streets of London. Yes, that is the rational explanation. But, in a room filled with so many memories, and on such an important day the symbolism and timing was just too perfect to be coincidental, wasn’t it?
So back to the present and I have a morning free before having to be at the Hall at 1. I have my breakfast and then do a little work back in my room, before heading out into the city. I have a little last minute Christmas shopping to do and the Liverpool 1 shopping complex is right next to the hotel, so I stroll out and become part of the Christmas melee.
Liverpool 1 is a modern complex but as I walk I catch a glimpse of an older building up an alley and it sets me thinking as to how much Charles Dickens would recognise if he was in the same streets now. Obviously all of the buildings around St George’s Hall would be known to him, but the iconic Liver Building wasn’t yet built. The Albert Docks were under construction so he would recognise the warehouses that now host the Tate and all of the restaurants but the rest of the waterside would be an alien landscape to him.
The building that inspires this reverie is the Bluecoat, ‘Liverpool’s Creative Hub’, but the building is the oldest in the City, built in 1716 as a charity school so I have no doubt that Charles would have visited this particular site.
It is lovely being out in the streets so close to Christmas as, on the whole, everyone is in good spirits. Lots of people are wearing Santa hats and Christmas sweaters and in each shop there is festive music playing, ranging from discreet choral performances of classic carols to Roy Wood screaming ‘IT’S CHRISTMAS!!!!!!’
Having finished my shopping I walk up to St George’s Hall where there is a Christmas market in full swing, so I decide to treat myself to an early lunch of German sausage and a crepe (stop sniggering, at the back). The Brockwurst is good and is made even better by ketchup and mustard and I sit people watching as I eat it. For my dessert I go for the classical lemon and sugar option on my pancake which I munch from a paper cone as I walk through the various stalls and fairground rides.
I still have a little time on my hands, so I walk to the Walker Art Gallery to have a coffee. As I am standing in line to order my Americano the lady in front asks ‘Are you Gerald Dickens? We saw your show in Chester last year and are coming to see you this afternoon!’ How nice to be recognised.
Now it is time to go back to the hotel where I have a quick shower and then head to the hall at 1pm.
Johnny is there waiting for me and the first thing I ask him to do is to take a picture of me on stage wearing my G&V tie. The G&V is a chop house in the heart of the City of London, and its correct name is The George and Vulture. The tavern features by name in The Pickwick Papers and many take it to be the setting of Scrooge’s counting house, its location being in the heart of the exchange (or ‘change as Dickens describes it) region of London.
For many years the Dickens family has celebrated with a lunch at the G&V in the week before Christmas and the model is that of the Pickwick Club, meaning that the affair is spectacularly chauvinistic and boozy. Every attendee has to wear a G&V tie which features a vulture with a bone in its beak. The original sketch was made by my grandfather Gerald, and bore the caption ‘Alas, poor George’. Anyone who does not wear the tie is fined a bottle of port.
In recent years it has been the tradition for those who cannot attend the lunch to send pictures of themselves wearing the tie in unusual settings, so here is my offering to the group.
Actually Gerald has been travelling with me throughout the tour as I have two items that belonged to him in my kit. The first is a silver cigarette case bearing the monogram GCD, which I use to store spare ink cartridges for my fountain pen, and the other is a little locket complete with pictures of Henry and Marie Dickens (Gerald’s parents) who gave it to him. The locket now is on the end of my watch chain. I really must find something of my father’s that I can include so that every generation is represented from Charles down to me.
I get ready for the show and soon the audience are starting to take their seats, and it is another excellent house.
The show is OK but not perfect, unfortunately I am beginning to be aware of a cold building, which is not surprising as I have been going flat out for quite a while now. I inadvertently drop a few lines, mostly from the sections that get added in for my two act version of the script, for example I completely bypass the conversation between Bob and Mrs Cratchit discussing Tim’s behaviour on the way home from Church. In itself it doesn’t matter particularly but it is annoying to me and proves that my concentration is not quite where is should be today.
For all that the performance goes very well and once again the audience are on the feet and stamping the floor once more as I take my bows.
After my meet and greet session in the lobby I change head for a nearby restaurant where I have a plate of fish and chips to sustain me through the evening and then return to the hotel to relax.
I have another bubbly energising jacuzzi bath and then lay on my bed watching TV until it is time to return to St George’s Hall for the last time. This year the hall has been vibrantly lit in various shades of blue, and with twinkling white lights strung in the branches of trees and a hazy moon above it is quite a sight.
My cold is really coming on now, and my throat is feeling a little tight, so I tuck myself away in my room so that I don’t need to talk more than is necessary, although I am very happy to chat to Johnny’s 9 yr old daughter who has come to see the show tonight, and wants a photo taken with me.
Once again we have a choir to open proceedings but they are a much smaller group tonight and at 7.30 they take to the stage. I decide to sneak in at the back of the balcony to listen and it is truly beautiful. The Concert Hall’s acoustics are perfect for their performance and it is easy to let the music wash over me. As I stand I am aware of movement on the other side of the semi-circular balcony. A rather angry man walks up to me and says ‘I need to be re seated. I cant see anything from where I am. This has to be sorted out. I’m not staying there, it’s not happening. If nothing is done then it will ruin the evening for everyone else!’
So Mr Gerald Dickens, taking on the guise of an usher, gently makes sure we step out of the door, as the little fracas is already ruining the music for the audience sat near us, and I take him down to Lynne to try and sort it out. Alternative seating is found on floor level and the crisis is averted. I would love to see his face when I walk on stage at the start of the show, for he obviously had no idea that I am the performer.
After the choir has finished I get ready to start and when Lynne welcomes me I walk onto the stage to loud applause. I walk to Marley’s grave side, and then back to centre stage where I deliver my first line directly to the empty seats which our friend and his family have just vacated! Silly and childish I know, but rather satisfying.
My voice is struggling a little which is annoying for I know that the range of voices and tones is not as great as it could be, and I am aware during the first act of Johnny increasing the levels on the mic system slightly which is good of him.
In the interval I slump in my chair, and drink a lot of water ready for the final push. Following the drawing of raffle prizes (raffles are the bane of my life!) I return to the stage to commence act 2. Only a few minutes in I hear a crackle from the mic and it goes dead meaning that I have to get through the next 40 minutes unamplified, which actually isn’t too difficult thanks to those beautiful acoustics. However what I must do is keep control over the show and not over stress myself and try too hard which I can be guilty of, and am slightly guilty of today.
I also notice that my wooden stool on stage is starting to fall apart too, with one of the cross beams that keep’s the legs in position having pulled out – we are all feeling the strain!
I get to the end of the show hot, sweating and completely drained but once again the Liverpool public stand and whoop and cheer me on to the stage as I take my bows.
Today’s shows were not great ones but everyone who came seemed to enjoy them very much and once again my experiences at St George’s Hall have been remarkable and memorable.
Thank you to Lynne for making it happen, to Jacqui for selling my programmes so effectively, meaning a goodly donation to the Charles Dickens Museum is on the way, to Johnny for looking after my sound and lighting and for being such a positive colleague, and too all the staff at the St George’s Hall who have been brilliant to work with, and who have now loaded my car for me before I drive back to the hotel garage.
I am tired, there is no doubt whatever about that, but elated also.