A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens, Formula One, House of Games, Mid Continent Public Library, Panera Bread, Richard Osman, The Signalman
Friday would see me back on stage performing once more, which would be good. However the only show of the day was not until 7pm so I had plenty of time to fill. As soon as I woke I could hear that the gentle, warm, almost late summer weather that I have enjoyed throughout the trip had changed. Outside my window I could hear the wind howling and moaning. In a way this was quite apt as my show was to be The Signalman in which Dickens describes the wind making ‘a wild harp’ of the telegraph wires. In my case it was an American flag flying just outside my room that was creating the morning soundtrack as it was tugged against its fixings and rattled and clanged in the gale.
I made myself my morning coffee and sat up in bed writing my blog post, as well as some material for a potential new book about my theatrical career and life on tour, The passage I was working on was of my earliest childhood memories of Christmas so I spent plenty of time wallowing in happy nostalgia!
I wrote until 7 and then went down to the lobby for Breakfast .The Hampton Inn at Liberty has always served one of the most impressive buffet-style breakfasts that I encounter anywhere on tour, and in particular the oatmeal and waffles. After a glass of orange juice I plumped for waffles, purely for tradition and old time’s sake and I was not disappointed. They were delicious.
After grabbing an extra coffee I returned to room, stopping at the front desk to collect a packet of book plates that Kimberly has asked me to sign for the library service, Although Mid Continent have ordered 200 copies of Dickens and Staplehurst, they were not due to arrive during my visit, so the signed bookplates could give people signed copies. There were 200 signatures to do, so I sat at the little desk in the room and began signing. It is amazing how much more quickly one can sign when you don’t have to pick up a book, open it to the correct page, sign, close the book and place it on the ‘done pile’, before reaching for the next book, opening it to the required page…etc etc. I got myself into a good rhythm and worked away until all 200 signatures were complete. Having finished I arranged the sheets of bookplates and a copy of the book for a photograph which the Olympian Publishers may like on their social media feed, and then packed everything away.
My timing was perfect, for I had a few minutes to spare before the first practice session from the Brazilian Grand Prix was being shown live on ESPN, so I settled onto the bed and spent a happy hour watching Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen battle it out on one of the classic, historic race tracks.
When practice finished, I did a little more writing and then decided to spend an hour rehearsing The Signalman and the moaning wind and the flapping flag outside my window gave the run through a much more authentic feel than usual. The Signalman is quite a short presentation, compared to something like A Christmas Carol, the script itself only running at 30 minutes (although my introductory remarks make the actual show a more meaningful length), so the rehearsal run didn’t take up too much time. Once I had finished I picked up the script as there were a few little phrases that I wanted to check on and tweak a little, and when I had practised those it was time for lunch. Once again I walked down to Panera Bread where this time I ordered a Ten Vegetable Soup served in bread bowl. Before committing myself I asked the server if the Ten Vegetable Soup was a broth (on the day of a performance I wanted to avoid anything made with dairy) and I got the helpful reply that ‘It is soup made with vegetables’ Well with that sense of clarity I went ahead with my order! When the soup came it was indeed a broth and it was indeed made with vegetables, I didn’t count them but I imagine that there may have been 10. It was delicious and warming and nourishing.
I had managed my time well for when I got back to my room the official qualifying session from Brazil was just beginning so I resumed my former spectating position and watched as Hamilton beat his rival to pole position. Sadly I will not be able to watch the rest of the weekend’s action due to my shows, but being able to catch Friday’s events was a nice bonus for me.
After Qualifying had finished and ESPN had returned to football I switched off the TV and did another complete run through of The Signalman, just to make sure that those little tweaks had settled into my mind, and then satisfied with how things were I settled down to relax and perhaps nap (my body clock still being all over the place and waking me at silly hours of the morning).
At some point in the afternoon I saw that my brother Ian was online, and as we chatted he mentioned that my favourite round of my favourite TV quiz had been on in the UK the day before. The show is called Richard Osman’s House of Games, and the round in question is ‘Where is Kazakhstan’ in which celebrity contestants are shown a blank map of an area of the World and have to pinpoint various places, however they are not given the names of the places but a question – so they not only have to know the answer to the question but also the location on the map. So, the round that Ian told me about was based on the USA and he thought that I may like to try and play. These were the questions:
Q1. The city in which the title character sits on a bench in Forest Gump.
Q2. Mount Elbert, the highest point in the Rocky Mountains.
Q3. Where is Yale University.
Q4. The major city that completes the title in the 1944 Judy Garland musical ‘Meet me in….’
My answers were as follows:
1: Savannah, Georgia
2: Probably somewhere near Colorado
3: Upstate New York
4: St Louis in Missouri, not far from where I am currently based.
I found a blank map online and placed four points on it as my answer:
I did pretty well, but frustratingly the one I got wrong was Missouri!
Anyway, that passed a pleasant amount of time and it was nice to chat with Ian.
The rest of the afternoon was spent somewhat lazily watching the end of Back to the Future II and the beginning of Back to the Futre III until it was time to prepare for the evening’s show. At 5.30 I showered to re-energise myself and just before 6 I had a call from the front desk telling me that Kimberly was waiting for me.
The evening’s shows was in the Woodneath branch of the MCPL which is only a five minute drive. I have performed at the branch on many occasions and was welcomed back by the staff there like an old friend. For The Signalman I was performing in the Community Room, a large self contained space away from them main Library and at one end a stage had been erected. Kimberly had sourced some material to create the idea of a set, including hand held oil lantern, which would be useful during the Signalman’s description of his repeated hauntings. There was a great sense of excitement and anticipation in the Library as my appearance represented the first in person large event staged by the programming team. In the same way as at the church in Burlington, Friday evening’s show marked a move forward for the organisation and a gradual easing of restrictions.
Not only was I to perform for a live audience, but the event was also being streamed online so that anyone not comfortable sitting with a crowd could watch from home. As well as a normal sound check therefore I had to spend a little time with the filming crew making sure their camera’s (actually i-phones on tripods) were in the correct place and would capture all of the presentation.
The audience started arriving early, as they always do in the KC area and soon the hall was filling up nicely, there were many old friends in the group but I tried to maintain a good distance and kept my mask on until the last moment.
At 7 o’clock the show started and I prefaced The Signalman with an introduction based on the new book (much more accurate than my old intro used to be!) and then launched in to ‘Halloa Below There!’ The Signalman is much more intense and dramatic than A Christmas Carol and there aren’t many laughs to help it along, but the audience were silent during the most dramatic patches and there was suitably stunned gasp when I finished up with the revelation of Dickens’s death being exactly 5 years after Staplehurst.
The show over we then moved onto the Q&A section and after I made a few more remarks about how I actually came to write the book, we opened the floor. There were good questions: How long does it take me to learn a new script, at what age did I first know I wanted to act, what novels would be good to start reading for someone returning to the works of Dickens, does the family feel a duty to preserve Dickens’ legacy, do I perform other works, non Dickensian? It was a fun session, but soon it was time to wind up. I took another bow, replaced my mask and the audience disappeared into the night.
When I had changed Kimberly took me to a nearby grill (a lot of restaurants are closing at 9pm, so choice was a little limited) and I ordered a burger with, bizarrely a fried egg on top – I have never had t make a decision between sunnyside up or over-hard at 9pm before, but that’s what was my final decision of Friday 12 November 2021!