On 23rd December, 2019 I stood on the low wooden stage of the ancient Guildhall in the heart of Leicester, I looked at the audience and began the last sentence of A Christmas Carol, ‘And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless Us, Every One!’ and to that I added, ‘Have a very merry Christmas’ The audience applauded loudly and I took my bows before leaving the stage and changing out of my costume. Christmas was upon us and I would be returning to my family the next morning after many weeks of being on the road. Another season of performances was over.
It seems extraordinary to look back on that evening now, almost a year later, and think that it was my last time on stage. In January and February Coronavirus began to spread throughout the country and by March everybody’s lives changed beyond all recognition as the first period of lockdown was imposed upon us.
But now on Saturday 12th December, 2020 I am preparing to perform A Christmas Carol once more and I have to say I am quite nervous about it!
Those of you who follow this blog will of course know that I have performed ‘The Carol’ this year, by making my brand new film version of the show. What’s that you say? You didn’t know? Goodness I must have been remiss in not mentioning it in this forum before. Well, if you visit http://www.geralddickens.com/films.html you will be able to rent the film for seven days and watch it as many times as you like. There, I’m glad that I have cleared that one up.
So, with the filming in October and November, I have spoken the words of my scrip and I have re-found the voices and expressions that bring each character to life, but running it all together in an 85 minute show is a different matter. For the past few days I have pacing up and down, throughout the house and in the local supermarket, muttering lines to myself, dwelling over passages that don’t quite flow as they should.
Last weekend I introduced our daughters to A Christmas Carol as we sat down together to watch The Muppets do their thing, and it was fascinating to watch the film itself (which actually is a very useful resource for the script is very much grounded in Dickens’ original text) through the eyes of someone who has NEVER heard the story before. In a way watching my 8 year old’s reaction gave some insight as to how the citizens of London must have felt on December 19 1843, the day on which the book was first published. As Gonzo, Kermit, Fozzie and Miss Piggy told the story I expected my daughter to giggle and laugh manically, but throughout the film she asked questions about Scrooge and the plot as it unfolded, trying to make sense of the fantasy world that our ancestor had drawn us into. Her main concern was an interesting one, it wasn’t about Tiny Tim, or about Scrooge’s schooldays, she was most upset by the fact that Ebenezer never married the girl he truly loved. We see that Belle finds her own happiness , but Scrooge’s loss is permanent – in fact this is the only factor in his journey that is not resolved in some way.
Anyway, during our movie night I was sort of going through my script in my head along with the felt cast and at the point that Scrooge is cowering by the graveside with the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come standing over him I had a realisation that there is a line from the novel that I MUST introduce to my script – a very sensible realisation to come to when I haven’t performed for 11 months! The line in question is: ‘Men’s courses foreshadow certain ends to which, if persevered in, they must lead, but if the courses be departed from the ends must change. Say it is thus with what you show me spirit.’ The line is so important to what comes next and I have no idea as to why I have never included it before.
For the last few days I have concentrated on getting the new line well and truly wired into my brain, and then running the whole scene over and over (hopefully not to the detriment of the rest) to make sure that the lines around it aren’t affected by it either.
Now, on Saturday morning, I think that it is ready to be taken on the road with me.
The theatre for the great comeback is a new one to me: The Sharnbrook Mill Theatre, and it was only a week or so ago that I knew for certain that we would be good to go, as it was then that the UK government announced the various tiers of restrictions throughout the country. In fact my first show should have been on the 9th December in Kent, but that county was placed under the highest restrictions (Tier 3) leading to the cancellation of the performance. Sharnbrook fortunately is in Tier 2 and although the show will be presented with strict social distancing measures in place we are good to go.
The staff and volunteers at The Sharnbrook Mill Theatre are a persistent group and actually we first talked about a show way back in 2019; ever since they have reeled me in as an expert salmon fisherman might land a catch. The show is sold out for two performances, each followed by a question and answer session from the stage.
At 3 o’clock this afternoon I shall walk to the centre of the stage and as the sound effect of a ringing church bell dies away I will say – ‘Marley was dead to begin with’, and in doing so will breathe a tiny bit of life back into live theatre once more.