Friday 13th.  Unlucky for some.  First show of the tour – a show I haven’t performed for over a year.  A venue I have never seen.  Friday 13th.

There is not much to say about the bulk of yesterday, in that I spent most of it in my hotel room.  I decided to spend the morning working on A Tale of Two Cities, which I am performing on Sunday and then the afternoon tweaking Great Expectations for the evening’s performance.

The morning’s work went well although there are still some niggly little scenes which simply refuse to stay stuck, but there is definitely a show there which will entertain the audience in Burlington, NJ.

In the afternoon I  concentrated on Great Expectations but rather than doing complete runs I preserved some energy and just went over the lines of a few little sections.   Of the two scripts Great Expectations has settled itself back in my memory more successfully

Other than the line work I napped a little, played some patience, watched a documentary about the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs and generally relaxed.

As the afternoon wore on I collected all the  costumes and props that I was going to need for the show and carefully packed them and at 5pm I carried it all down stairs to load into the car.  I think the man behind the desk was surprised to see me pulling an obviously heavy suitcase and carrying two hanger-fulls of clothing without checking out.

It was still a very hot and sultry afternoon but the clouds were gathering and a heavy wind was wipping litter, leaves and dust high into the air.  The venue, The Spinning Jenny, was only fifteen minutes away but my journey was lengthened when I discovered a road blocked due to a fallen tree over one of the roads.  There was already a team of people working hard to clear the branches so I left them to it and went on my way,

I arrive at The Spinning Jenny bang on the dot of 5.30.  I went in the main entrance and found an impressive, low-ceilinged hall which was obviously more of a concert venue than a theatre.  At the far end the small stage was bathed in blue, which would make a good Miss Havisham light, and chairs had been arranged in front of it.  Sharon, who runs the venue , welcomed me with a great big South Carolinian hug and showed me to my dressing room/green room which was very comfortable.

I needed to create my set, for the stage was bare, so I started scouring the venue for a suitable chair, table and stool, which I soon found.  The only thing missing was Miss Havisham who maintains a ghostly presence on the stage overseeing everything.  To create her I normally use my good old standby, a hatstand, but there wasn’t anything like that to be found, until Sharon suggested that we use the circular costume hanging rack from the dressing room.  I carefully draped my white cloth over her to create a sagging human form, even letting a length of it fall onto the chair, as if the old woman was leaning on it.  I was rather proud with my efforts.

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Judging by the number of chairs laid out Sharon was not expecting a huge crowd, and she said she wasnt sure what sort of response they would get, as this sort of performance was a new experiment for them, touring rock bands are more their thing.  As I prepared the stage we chatted and Sharon mentioned that she had seen me perform A Christmas Carol somewhere in South Carolina about 20 years ago, although neither of us could remember quite where that would be.  She said that the show had been very busy and she thought it may have been in a Church as she remembered sitting in pews.  If only I had written a blog in those days, I could have found out where and when that gig was.

Set built we started running through some of the lighting effects and the sound cues, which sort of led me into rehearsing most of act 2.  Although the stage was very wide, the lighting concentrated my action to the centre and I wanted to get a feel for where I could safely move to whilst remaining illuminated.  The acoustics of the hall, with its low tin ceiling, were good and we decided that I didn’t need a microphone.

With an hour to go I retired to my green room, drank water and rested.  I could hear the audience coming in, and although not a large group, they sounded like an enthusiastic one which is all one can ask for.

At 8pm Sharon made the obligatory cell phone speech and brought the whole venue into blackout before playing the first sound cue cut into the darkness: ‘My father’s family name being Pirrip, and my Christian name Philip, my infant tongue could make of both names nothing longer or more explicit than Pip. So, I called myself Pip, and came to be called Pip’

I crept onto the stage in the dark, so I was ready to burst out as Magwitch ‘Hold your noise!  tell us yer name!’ Sharon brought the lights up bang on cue and I was off and running.

The audience, although small, very much enjoyed the opening exchanges between Pip and Mrs Joe and laughed freely, which was good.  The lines flowed easily, the various characters’ voices worked well and each scene flowed easily into the next.  All of the hard work and pacing had paid off and I began to thoroughly enjoy myself.

In no time I reached the end of act one and I was whooped off the stage by one particularly enthusiastic lady who was really enjoying the performance.

Having changed costume and cleared the stage ready for act two I had a little time to rest before Sharon came to give me the nod. The second act is darker and more intense, except for the brilliant scene with Wemmick and the Aged P, which got plenty of laughs last night.

My only concern was my voice, and I hoped I hadn’t taken too much out of it in the early Magwitch scenes.  I was beginning to sound a little raspy.

Soon Miss Havisham had gone up in flames, Pip and Herbert were spiriting Magwitch away up the river, only to be caught, Joe Gargery nursed Pip to full health and the latter named paid off his various debts, sloughed off his pretentious delusions of grandeur and returned to the old forge to bring the whole story to its final scene.  In the ruins of Satis House Pip and Estella met once more (I use the second ending, as suggested to Dickens by Edward Bulwer-Lytton), and they walked away from the ruins hand in hand.

As I left the stage there was a pause and then a hugely enthusiastic round of applause, featuring my whooping uber-fan!  A job well done and I was very satisfied with how the show had gone.

I did a brief Q&A session from the stage, which is always fun, and there were some interesting questions about the editing of the script and how I approach building a character for a show (Sharon told me later that a large group of the audience were theatre majors).  We had a discussion about how old we felt Miss Havisham actually is, which was interesting, we settled on late 40s although she appears much older due to her hermit-like existence.  The final question was ‘Do you have a favourite story about Charles himself?’ and after floundering for a little I told them about A Childs Journey with Dickens, when Dickens chatted to the ten year old Kate Douglas Wiggin on the train to Boston.  That was a good place to finish and I took some more bows before leaving the stage for the final time.

I packed up all my things quickly and emerged into the auditorium where I chatted for a while, before getting into my car and driving back to the hotel.

Sharon and her team had looked after me so well all evening and I really hope that this might be the start of a regular booking, it would be great to come back with some of my other shows, and hopefully a little word of mouth will bring in a larger audience next time.

Back in Greenville I parked my car and went into the hotel.  MainStays Suites is one of those hotels that has a microwave in the room, and that sells frozen ready meals in a little pantry in the lobby.  I purchased a beef and pepper concoction which I carefully prepared and devoured quickly whilst watching Modern Family

The rigours of the evening were beginning to make themselves felt and soon I was ready for sleep.

Under the covers I could reflect on a very successful first night of my tour.

Oh, Friday 13th?  That was Charles Dickens’ lucky day!