Although Wednesday was another day without a performing commitment, I did have work to do. Two media outlets wanted to interview me via Zoom and as the apartment in Philadelphia does not have a any Wi-Fi at the moment we decided that the best thing would be to drive to the Byers’ Choice HQ in Chalfont and do the interview there.
I was just about to cook myself a plate of scrambled eggs when I got a message from Bob saying that the Condominium board had been in touch to say that there was a gas leak in the building. ‘It’s not dangerous,’ said Bob, ‘but….don’t use the cooker!’ I decided to eat on the road.
The first thing to do was to retrieve the car from the parking lot where I had left it the night before and as I walked through the morning sun a fire truck wailed and whooped and screeched past me – this was a proper fire truck, the sort of fire truck that a child might draw – huge, articulated, covered in chrome and metallic red paint. It assaulted the senses as the blinding lights flashed and the screaming siren filled the morning air. The joy and excitement of watching this leviathan make its way down the street was only tinged with sadness that some terrible emergency had led to its being summoned.
I retrieved the Tesla and set the navigation system to take me to Byers’ Choice, where I have performed so many times over the years. I stopped for my breakfast at a McDonalds on the way and arrived at 9am, ready for my first interview at 9.35. Bob was there to meet me and, along with David who looks after all of my technical requirements when I perform, we set me up in the large board room with a microphone and headphones (which rather effectively covered up the shiny glare reflecting off the top of my head!).
The first interview was with a TV network in Kansas City to promote my upcoming performances for the Mid Continent Public Library Service, and particularly my two performances of The Signalman there – this also gave me ample opportunity to mention (and show) my book – all publicity opportunities gratefully received! Being a live TV slot, the interview was quite short, sandwiched between a cooking demonstration and the Kansas City weather prospects for the next few days. I signed off just in time to log on again for the second interview, this for the Harrisburg Magazine. Although a Zoom call it was not for broadcast but a traditional conversational chat with Randy, the journalist who was writing the piece. It was a very enjoyable interview as Randy asked fascinating questions and let me talk at length about the show, the story, my career, the tours etc. One question was ‘which character in A Christmas Carol do you think merits being fleshed out a little more?’ There was an ulterior motive behind this as Randy had actually written a screenplay about Dick Wilkins, Scrooge’s fellow apprentice in Mr Fezziwig’s business. It is an interesting point and I have wondered the same over the years about a few of the characters. I love to think that the poor charity collector is new in town and his colleagues in the charity give him the unenviable task of visiting Mr Scrooge on Christmas Eve (surely if he was long term resident of London he would know that Marley had died seven years before and that getting money out of Ebenezer would be an impossibility). So the poor man gets sent packing, but the very next morning he is approached in the street by Ebenezer bestowing unimaginable riches upon the charity. I imagine that our gent would return to the office looking very smug: ‘Old Scrooge? I don’t know what the trouble is, a charming gentleman really!’
And then there is the Ghost of Christmas Present when he says ‘My time on THIS globe is very brief……’ Oh, my! What other globes? Where else does he visit?
Anyway, I digress, the interview was most enjoyable and I look forward to reading the finished article when I return next month.
With the interviews completed it was now time to get down to some serious book signing. As we are not doing any post show book signing sessions on this years’ tour Bob suggested taking the time available to us to sign as much stock as possible so that audience members could at least take away a signed copy.
120 copies of Dickens and Staplehurst, as well as piles of A Christmas Carol, The Life of our Lord and some souvenir programmes, took plenty of time and by the time I was finished it was lunchtime. Bob and his mother Joyce (who created the company) brought a collection of salads and we all had a lovely time chatting. On a practical level we pondered how best to negotiate a question and answer session for the large audience’s that typically attend the Byers’ Choice shows, and decided that the best solution would be to get audience members to write their questions as they arrive and then at the end of the show Bob will host a sort of ‘audience with’ type session. So, if you are coming to Byers’ Choice in December, think of your questions now!
Lunch finished, I drove back to the City where I had to find a charging point to re-energise the Tesla. There was a charging point very close to the Barnes Art Gallery that I had visited a couple of days before, so I plugged the car in and then had a very pleasant coffee at a café just off Logan Square. 45 minutes and the car was raring to go again but my final drive in it lasted just five minutes, back to the parking garage in the basement of the apartment block, where I would leave it for Bob to pick it up later.
It was now time to pack my cases again as I would be leaving early the following morning, and I wouldn’t have much time to pack that evening, for the ever generous Byers family had arranged a very special treat for me. At 4.30 there was a knock at the door and I opened the door to welcom Bob, Pam and their son George into their own property, which seemed a bit odd.
Through a rather complicated set of circumstances, too complicated indeed to fully explain here, Bob and Pam had secured tickets for the touring production of Hamilton which was playing in Philadelphia. Liz and I have never seen the musical itself but over the past year or so we have both become rather obsessed with it, listening to the sound track repeatedly and, in my case, reading the Ron Chernow biography of Alexander Hamilton which inspired Lin-Manuel Miranda to create the show. I couldn’t believe it when Pam told me about the trip, but I did feel very guilty and a sad that Liz could not share this evening with us.
We dined before the show and then at around 7 o’clock made our way to The Academy of Music, a very grand looking theatre and joined the throng of excited people waiting to be admitted.
We all had to wear masks throughout the show and also show certificates of vaccination before being admitted (I was worried that my British paperwork would not be accepted, but it was all OK). Our seats were close to the stage, to one side and I loved watching the audience fill the 5 levels of the impressive auditorium and hearing the buzz and bustle as the anticipation increased.
Eventually all of the doors were closed and the house lights dimmed to black, which produced a round of applause before anything had even happened on stage!
I wont offer a full review of the show, but my word it was just as great and as exciting as I had wanted it to be. It was wonderful just to be in a theatre again, and to witness such amazing performances of such a brilliantly conceived piece of art made it a very special evening. I cannot thank Bob and Pam enough for treating me to such an amazing final night in Philly.
After the show we walked through the streets of the city chatting about the show, humming the songs and discussing the actual history behind the story (Bob in particular has a fascination in that particular period and is well versed in the facts), Eventually we arrived back at the apartment block, where I sad good bye to all. It had been a really fun few days but now it was time to move on again once more. The next time I am in a theatre it will be back on the stage again.