Small and simple the Sleeperz hotel in Newcastle may be, but it does put on an impressive breakfast! On Wednesday morning I went to the lobby at 7am and thoroughly enjoyed some muesli and fruit, followed by an impressive plate of scrambled eggs and bacon.
During breakfast I received an email confirming that my PCR Covid test, taken the morning before, had come back negative and so I was approved to fly. As I ate I completed the ‘VeryFLY’ app, uploading all of the relevant documents, which will allow me to board the BA flight to Boston.
My car was parked on the street outside the hotel and as the daily parking charges came into force at 8 I wanted to be away by then and, sure enough, it was at 7.55 that I started the engine and once more started a long drive.
I had turned on the radio to keep me company but the very first thing I heard was the presenter announcing that they were going to talk about the previous night’s ‘Great British Bake Off’ final, and if listeners didn’t know the results then they should turn off for the next five minutes. I didn’t know the result, and didn’t want to, so instead I listened to a Formula One podcast, which occupied my time for almost an hour. When the podcast was finished I returned to the radio channel where the presenter was saying ‘If you haven’t heard the result of the Bake Off, then maybe you should turn the volume down, because we are going to talk to the newly crowned champion.’ I drove on in silence for a while.
It was a beautiful morning to drive and my Satellite Navigation system took me all the way down the spine of England along the A1/M road, roughly following the route the Roman’s took as they swept through Britain sometime in the 40s AD. It was a more interesting route than the M1 motorway and I made good time. Eventually I could listen to the radio without fear of learning what had happened on television the previous night, and much of the coverage was given over to the disastrous speech that the British Prime Minster had made a few days earlier, during which he lost his place in his notes, and then made motor car noises, and asked his audience to put their hands up if they had been to Peppa Pig World. This would have been fun if it were an audience of 5 year olds but unfortunately he was addressing the Confederation of British Industry and the crowd was made up of the leading captains of industry.
The journey was just under 6 hours and I was heading for the town of Ashford, in Kent, and the beautiful Revelation Arts Centre. About half way there I suddenly realised that I had not received any email confirmation about my hotel booking at the Holiday Inn, which I had made a few weeks earlier, along with all the others for my winter tours in the UK. I became a little concerned and as soon as I could found a coffee shop to stop at (I needed a break from the driving anyway), and checked my ‘Booking.com’ app, Sure enough there was no booking reserved for Wednesday night, or indeed any of the other nights I had booked. I quickly re-booked a room in Ashford (fortunately there was plenty of room at the Inn), and got back onto the road.
I arrived at around 1pm and stopped at a large supermarket, where I had a bite of lunch, and then went to the hotel at 2 where I checked in. ‘Hello, Mr Dickens, I see you have two rooms booked with us!’ After a little investigation it was discovered that although my booking had gone through, it was not appearing on the app, and therefore no confirmations had been sent to me. The lady at the desk cancelled one booking and soon I was in my room and able to relax for a while, and before going to the theatre. Before I left I refreshed myself with a shower, and was delighted to discover that this particular shower had been designed by someone who actually stays in hotel rooms: The controls to start it were at the opposite end of the cubicle to the shower itself, meaning that I did not have to lean in and get a gush of cold water cascading over my arm as I switched it on. Thank you Holiday Inn!
Revelation Arts Centre is such a beautiful venue to perform at, based in St Mary’s Church it is now ten years old and features an impressive programme of music and drama. The only downside is the getting in of props and furniture, as you have to reverse the car up a very narrow alley, where there is only just enough room to open the side doors of the car. As I slowly guided the car between the iron railings of the graveyard on one side and the brick wall of a building on the other, I became aware of a gentleman standing behind the car, waiting for me to stop. I opened the window and waved him through (there was just enough room for him to squeeze by), but he resolutely stood his ground. I moved forward again, to give him more room, but no, he stood still. Eventually, when he could see I wasn’t going anywhere, he walked up to the car window, and I braced myself for a torrent of complaint and abuse, but it was a smiling cheery face that greeted me ‘Hello Gerald! great to see you again, Ive come to help you unload!’ It was Phil who takes photographs for the the theatre and who has supplied some memorable images of my shows over the years.
We got the car emptied and then I took it to a small parking space in the next street, which Phil had reserved for me with a couple of traffic cones. Back in the theatre the team was bustling around making preparations for the evening. Up on lighting board, high above me, was John, who always does a good job, and Debra the theatre manager was in the box office. I set the stage as I wanted it, and then worked with John for a while on the sound and lighting effects. Philip asked if there were any scenes that I particularly wanted pictures of, and I suggested that maybe Bob Cratchit carrying Tiny Tim on his shoulder would be nice to have. He made a mental note of my request and worked out how best to capture that moment.
When John had finished programming all of the cues he switched the stage lights back to their pre set state, that is to what would greet the audience as they arrived, and he had chosen a bright lavish, somewhat psychedelic , effect of random shapes in reds, oranges and yellows. The effect lit the great stone arch of the church and towered above the auditorium impressively, and as I looked an idea came into my mind. ‘John,’ I said, ‘you will probably hate me for ever, but could we use that same effect for the arrival of the Ghost of Christmas Present?’ In the book Dickens talks about the room being filled with greenery and this would be a great splash of colour to greet Scrooge as he opened the door. John very kindly programmed the effect into his lighting board, changing the reds and oranges to greens and yellows and we were done.
There was a long time before curtain up, so I set out my merchandise and chatted to the various staff and volunteers before I retreated to my dressing room and sat quietly alone until it was time to get into costume.
The audience began arriving at 7, and they sounded like an excited and enthusiastic bunch indeed. At 7.30 the front og house manager came to tell me that we were ready and I made my way into the foyer from where I would make my first entrance through the audience.
The performing space at Revelation is surprisingly intimate, considering it is set in a huge church with vaulted ceilings towering above, and it suits my shows so well. I have been performing there for a number of years and this was my fourth time with The Carol, meaning that many audience members were hardened fans! Oh, I had fun. Such fun! I was performing my two act version and therefore there were a few extra passages in the first act, which needed a little concentration to stop me being swept away with my familiar one act script, but soon I was well into the plot. Mr and Mrs Fezziwig danced enthusiastically to Sir Roger de Coverley, and Jacob Markley revelled in his extra long scene. Scrooge’s emotion at being shown the moment when his fiancé Belle broke off the engagement was clear to all and was compounded by the sight of her enjoying a happy and fulfilling family life. Poor Ebenezer, broken by the Ghost of Christmas Past, subsided to sleep and the first act came to an end. As I left the stage in darkness, so the applause rang out.
Soon it was time to go again and the second act was as successful, if not more so, than the first. And when I wished the audience ‘Happy Christmas’ the ovation was amazing. When I returned to the stage to bow, the audience stood and cheered and clapped. Amazing!
After catching my breath and putting on a mask, I went back to the merchandise table where a lot of people bought the book, which was nice! In the background the Revelation staff were busy turning a theatre back into a Church and the altar rail was being slotted back into place, and the Altar itself, draped in a gold-embroided altar cloth, was lifted onto the spot where a couple of hours before Marley’s face had appeared to Scrooge for the first time.
I changed and packed up all of my belongings, before retrieving my car, reversing back up the alley and loading up. I said goobye to John and the team and drove back to my hotel where I ate a chicken salad, before going to sleep.
I now have one day at home before I am once again on my travels, for on Friday I board a flight to Boston for the second half of my American adventures.