After my two days of leisure Wednesday marked my return to the stage and when I woke up my thoughts turned to The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby, which I would be performing twice at the Winterthur Museum later in the day.
The first thing to do was to pack all of the props that I would need into my small roller case, so having removed all of the Tale of Two Cities things I put in an old newspaper, some kid gloves, a couple of handwritten letters and a hangman’s noose. I made sure that my cufflinks and watch were still in their pocket and then put in a white shirt and a couple of pairs of socks. I put my costume, with a black cravat and waistcoat onto a hanger, and then went to the little reception office to get a cup of coffee (there are no coffee machines in the rooms at The Ambler), but horror of horrors the machine had disappeared. There was no explanation from the lady at the front desk, just that it wasn’t available this morning, although I could try one of the other buildings to see if there was a machine available there. Eventually I was successful and returned to my room to continue watching a Netflix documentary series about the Last Czars until it was time for breakfast.
When the episode finished I packed all of the rest of my clothes into my big suitcase and tried to zip it up. The case has rather struggled on this trip, having to contain the costumes and props for four different shows and as I stood it up the zip parted and gaped open. Fortunately, it was only one half of the zip, so I could seal the case with the other, but this may spell the beginning of the end for this particular suitcase.
I was due to meet Bob at 8 for what has become something of a tradition when I am in Chalfont. We filled our plates from the buffet and sat down to catch up on all of our news and talk about how future tours may pan out. Over the years these informal breakfast meetings have proved very useful, as well as being a great time to chat with a good friend.
Soon it was time to say our goodbyes and to go our separate ways. I went back to the room, finished the packing and then loaded up the car to drive to Winterthur, a journey of an hour or so.
Heavy traffic on the route gave me time to run through a few pieces of the Nickleby script, for although I have been performing it for many years and know it inside out, upside down and backwards too, there are a couple of new passages that I introduced earlier in the year which I was keen to run a few times.
I was still in good time as I pulled up in the car park at Winterthur and unloaded my cases and costume. I remembered that my wash bag was in my big suitcase, so managed to open that in the boot of the car (no mean feat) and grab the little black bag to take with me.
At the bottom of the tree-lined path that joins the car park to the visitors centre I found my friends Ellen and Barbara unloading a table and rug that looked suspiciously like they may be for my set. We all hugged and made our way inside, where I was able to greet more old friends in the gift shop.
We couldn’t get into the theatre where I was to perform yet, as there was a lecture going on, so we all discussed the set in the lobby. The problem lay with the screen which is necessary for the final scene of the show, when Ralph Nickleby hangs himself. Ellen and Barabra had a couple of ideas but somehow nothing seemed to work. One solution was too large and another too small, I was beginning to feel like Goldilocks. But it is always worth looking around a bit and eventually, in a small room off the cafeteria, we discovered a large projection screen which when covered by a red cloth (in my bag for precisely this purpose), would work very well.
Inquiries were made as to who it belonged to, permission asked, permission granted and my set requirements were complete.
Ellen and I slipped into the back of the auditorium to listen to the end of the lecture, which was being given by an English lady from the Royal School of Needlework, talking about some of the beautiful creations that the school has made for the Royal family, including the Duchess of Cambridge’s wedding dress. Needless to say the audience were rapt.
When the lecture was finished and the audience dutifully filed out (many of whom would be coming back to my show), Ellen and I put the set together and I placed the props where they should be. The screen looked perfect.
The audience were already gathering outside, so I retired to Barbara’s office, which becomes my dressing room when I am here, and began preparing to change into the all black costume which Nickleby demands. I was about to spray a little anti perspirant when I realised that my black washbag was nowhere to be seen. I checked everywhere. Ellen checked everywhere. Nowhere was my washbag to be found. We both checked everywhere again still without luck, until I wondered if it had been handed into the front desk, and sure enough there it was. I had left it in the car park when I was onloading my costume and a kindly visitor had handed it in.
Brief panic over and I resumed my preparations. When I was dressed I sat quietly in the office as the audience made their way to their seats.
1.30 was show time and as the clock ticked round I stood with Ellen and Jeff, who would be making the introductory remarks. Bang on time we walked to the front and Jeff mounted the podium, he asked how many people had seen me perform before, and I was astounded when pretty well every hand in the room went up (well, half the hands in the room went up, as nobody raised both hands ). It was a humbled Gerald who mounted the stage.
Nickleby was a new programme for Winterthur, and the audience enjoyed it very much, in particularly the broad comedy of the Crummles theatre troupe scene. From my point of view I felt completely engaged with the story and it ran very smoothly.
As ever we had a signing session in the cafeteria and people told me how much they had enjoyed the show, and asked me to sign the huge paperback copies of Nickleby that were on sale in the shop: ‘We had no idea how you would squeeze all of this into an hour!’
When the last of the audience had left I got changed and drove the few miles to The Fairville Inn, where I always stay. I was welcomed by the owner Laura and was delighted to see the names of David and Teresa Keltz on the register, my dear old friends had made the journey to come and see Nickleby and to catch up.
I was shown to my room, where I munched on some biscuits (cookies), lay on the bed and then had a shower before setting off back to Winterthur for the second show. The evening audience is always smaller, but once again almost everyone there put their hand up in response to Jeff’s question – I have an immensely loyal following in Delaware.
Not only were David and Teresa in the audience but also Pam Byers as well. Pam was keen to see Nickleby so that when she is dealing with event organisers in the future she can speak with a little more knowledge of what she is selling. This week has been useful from that respect in that she has seen Great Expectations, A Tale of Two Cities as well as Nicklbey. Pam was also at Winterthur so that she could drive me to Philadelphia airport early the next morning.
If anything the second show was better than the first and it flowed swiftly through the various locales that Dickens takes Nicholas to: London, Yorkshire, London, Portsmouth, London, Devon. Once again the audience showed their appreciation generously as I took my bows.
After the signing David, Teresa, Pam and I decided to get together for supper (I was starving by this time) at Buckley’s Tavern. I changed and packed up all of my props, taking care not to leave anything behind, and said goodbye to Ellen and Barbara for just a couple of months for I will be returning to perform A Christmas Carol in December.
In Buckley’s the four of us chatted and laughed as we tucked into our various dishes – a comforting Chicken Pot Pie in my case, but the evening is was wearing on and I would need to be waking up at 5 o’clock the next morning, so we made our farewells and all headed back to the Inn.
Once in my room I did as much packing as I could, trying to get as many of the heavy costume pieces into my little case to take the strain off my big case, and then got ready for bed. Outside the cicadas (or crickets) sung, and I wondered if cicadas (or crickets) in Delaware have different accents to those in South Carolina and with that thought I fell asleep.