The End of the Tour: Happy Birthday and a Lamb Pasanda

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My extensive 2020 tour of three venues continued and concluded over this weekend as the country was plunged ever deeper into more complicated layers of lockdown.

On Saturday morning I loaded my car with the various pieces of my set (carefully designed to fit into the rear of a Renault Kadjar) and set a course for The Wirral – the beautiful peninsula to the south of the River Mersey. In past years I have regularly performed in the city of Liverpool, specifically at The St George’s Hall where Charles himself gave readings, but harsh restrictions in the city led to a nervousness of many venues to stage events meaning that Lynne Hamilton, the producer who promotes my shows in this region, had to search for alternative sites. With time rapidly running out to organise and market a show Lynne finally came to an arrangement with the Thornton Hall Hotel and Spa, and the date was to be the 19th December, the anniversary of the day that A Christmas Carol had been published in 1843. It seemed as if the stars were truly aligning.

My SatNav set I made the journey north on roads which were very much quieter than in more more normal years of yore. The hotel sits on the outskirts of the very pretty village of Thornton Hough which was originally built as a model village by a mill owner in 1866 before being developed by William Lever as a community for his executive staff working at the Sunlight Soap factory nearby.

Having checked in to the hotel I found my way to the Torintone Suite where I was due to perform. The large room had been set up with a stage at one end and tables and chairs very carefully placed to abide by the strict regulations. Members of staff, all masked, bustled about making final preparations. I introduced myself and received muffled greetings and welcomes in reply, before starting to arrange my furniture on the stage.

Every venue has its own particular challenges and I immediately realised what those would be here: over the stage hung two beautifully designed chandeliers, modern in design, made up of hundreds of glass droplets which dangled from little hooks…unfortunately with the raised stage they dangled to a lower height than 5’10 plus top hat – I was going to have to very carefully navigate my way around.

Soon Lynne arrived and we made the final preparations, the most complicated of which was to arrange my opening music and sound effect to play at the correct moment, for the CD unit was in a completely different room (actually a tiny stock cupboard behind the bar area), meaning that we had to set up a chain of people to allow Zak, one of the staff members, to hit the button bang on cue.

Soon the time for the audience to arrive was approaching so I made some final checks to the stage, before waiting for the start time of 2.30. Although the hotel had not staged any events like this for months they had worked out a system of taking bar orders and serving drinks which they carried out like clockwork. Soon everyone who wanted one had a drink and we were ready to start. Lynne got on the stage and welcomed everyone, who were revelling in a tiny moment of normality in turbulent times, and the show began.

I performed in two acts, and successfully managed to not destroy the chandeliers, the audience responded enthusiastically throughout. After I had finished I chatted to a few audience members (all masked up, of course and from a distance), and learned that many people had seen me perform in Liverpool before and had made the journey across the Mersey to catch up with me this year.

Between shows I went to my room and as soon as I switched on the TV I discovered that the Prime Minister was announcing even tighter restrictions on the country, and the jolly plans that had been put in place to temporarily allow a few household bubbles to meet over the Christmas season were henceforth rescinded. Inevitably Mr Johnson would now be slammed in the press as the PM who cancelled Christmas. It was all too depressing to watch, so I flicked the channel and was instantly rewarded with Alastair Sim skipping around his room in sheer undulated joy: once again A Christmas Carol had come to the rescue.

The evening show was at 7.30 so I had plenty of time to rest before the second audience, slightly larger than the first, took their seats, ordered their drinks and prepared themselves for a dose of escapism to treat the depressing malaise that has spread across the country.

Again the show was a success, and again I was able to chat and pose with some of the fans who had tracked me down!

When I returned to my room the day’s duties were not quite done for I had a Q&A call from America, which was arranged to celebrate the 177th anniversary of ‘The Ghostly Little Book.’ The video session had been arranged by Sandy Belknap, my good friend from Nashua, who has been doing a lot of marketing work to promote the film during the last few weeks. I was to be interviewed by Pam Byers, who would usually be organising and managing my American tour. The whole technical aspect was overseen by Scott, a colleague and friend of Sandy’s. We virtually forgathered in our virtual studio and ran through the running order that Sandy had drawn up and then with a couple of minutes to go Pam and I were left to our own devices, but with Sandy and Scott feeding chat messages to us, guiding the session.

Pam welcomed me and invited me to chat about the gestation and publication of A Christmas Carol, before opening the ‘floor’ to questions, which started to pour in. I was asked if I had a favourite copy of A Christmas Carol and I talked about the ‘reading’ version upon which I based my first show. The volume in question was first published in 1969 with a white cover (and that is the one that was read to me by an uncle – my first experience of the story), then re-published with a red cover (I am not sure when that was), and finally with a green cover which is the copy I have marked up with some of my own performance suggestions from 1993.

Another question was about Dickens development of characters and did he base any on real people, also the names, where did they come from? Of course Charles Dickens was an observer above all things, so his greatest characters were an amalgam of many character traits that he had noticed around him. As for the names, they were very important to him, having to capture the essence of the character in an instant.

I was delighted to notice a couple of questions pop up from ‘Martin at Orgin8 Photography’ Martin is a good friend who took the fantastic still photos for the film’s promotion. Martin’s questions focussed on the making of the film and the challenges I faced in creating it, which was a lovely avenue to go down, and useful in that the point of the session was to stimulate plenty of rentals. I assure you Martin was not a plant and his presence online was a complete, yet very happy, surprise’

Our thirty minutes ran its course, with Pam and I keeping up a dialogue, whilst watching for Sandy and Scott’s comments to guide us. It was a fun session and the whole thing can still be watched online and I will post the link at the end of this article.

I was still buzzing with adrenaline when we finally signed off, and it took quite a while to get to sleep. It had been a fun day and I think we honoured the anniversary of A Christmas Carol in a suitably celebratory fashion.

On the next day I left the hotel after a large breakfast and headed home to be with the family for a few brief hours before setting off to perform my final show of 2020. Once again this was a new venue to me and an unusual one at that! I had been booked by a friend of many years (I was going to say an old friend, but that is ungallant), who works as an event promoter. I had first met Paula when she worked at a theatre in the Oxfordshire riverside town of Henley and had booked me to perform Mr Dickens is Coming and The Signalman. We have kept in touch ever since and this year she contacted me to ask if I would perform A Christmas Carol as a dinner theatre show for her client: The Spice Merchant Indian restaurant. Dickens and an Indian restaurant do not seem to be a natural fit, but there was plenty of enthusiasm for the project and I was very happy to sign off my year in this way.

The drive to Henley from Abingdon is a short one, so I travelled in costume, admiring the beautiful Christmas lights which are adorning Britain more extravagantly this year than ever before. The room I would be performing in was long and narrow with tables on either side, so allowing for distancing I only had a single track to move up and down along.

The guests arrived and ordered their meals, before I performed chapters 1 and 2. As I performed so the waiters were carrying plates of food and drink, meaning that I had to be careful not to send a plate of Lamb Pasanda and Pilau flying with some theatrical and flamboyant gesture. I was however able to include some the waiters in the performance, one unwittingly becoming Dick Wilkins, Scrooge’s fellow clerk in Mr Fezziwig’s warehouse.

After a brief interval I returned to fisnish the story, taking care not to roam too far up the room this time as one table has an elderly and therefore vulnerable lady in their party and had asked Paula if I could not come quite so close to them during my show, a request which of course I honoured.

The show was another great success and after I had finished we spent a little time chatting in an informal Q&A until I packed up my things, said goodbye to Paula and drove away from my 2020 tour, which has involved 5 performances!

To view the online Q&A with Pam Byers visit my Facebook page: Dickens Shows

To watch my film of A Christmas Carol go to my website: http://www.geralddickens.com

Sharnbrook Mill Theatre

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Last Saturday I performed for the first time this year, and what a perfect venue it was to ‘open my account’. At the start of the year The Sharnbrook Mill Theatre contacted me and it was with great difficulty that we were able to find a date in the crowded Christmas season. As 2020 moved on so my diary began to empty with each confirmed booking being consigned to the dustbin with a line stroked through it, but Sharnbrook remained. With the cancellation of my American tour so the diary opened up completely and whilst other venues were falling by the wayside, Sharnbrook asked if they could change dates to one closer to Christmas. There was no problem there, I had plenty of time available!

Britain came out of lockdown but the celebrations of late Summer sent us straight back in again and for a while it looked as if my performances in Bedfordshire would suffer the same fate as the others, but the staff worked on, planning, hoping. Rather than leaving the theatre empty during those long months the volunteers (The Sharnbrook Mill Theatre is staffed entirely by volunteers) began a renovation process and the auditorium was filled with scaffolding as they installed air conditioning units and made much needed repairs to the fabric of the building.

By December the work was finished but there was still no guarantee that I would be able to perform, for the government replaced our second full lockdown with a tier system of restrictions: if Bedfordshire was in tier 3 then there would be nothing we could do. We all listened to the radio anxiously that day – the county of Kent, where I made my film and where I was also due to perform, was in 3 – another date lost, but Bedfordshire was announced as being in tier 2 – the emails started again. I booked a hotel which seemed to be close to the theatre and on Saturday 12 December I packed my car with all of my props and started my 2020 tour.

The theatre is, as its name suggests, in a converted mill building on the Great Ouse river. Having left plenty of time for traffic, I arrived slightly early so decided to drive to my hotel and get checked in. It wasn’t a long drive in any sense of the term, for in fact the two properties were next door to one another and the view from my room was of the rear of the theatre.

Having dropped my bags off I made the long car journey next door where I was welcomed by the extremely enthusiastic, dedicated and professional staff who run it. My contact was Brenda and her husband Gerry (another Gerald, there are not many of us), would be my stage manager for the evening whilst Mark would be running my sound. The stage and auditorium are in a a towering room which, judging by the long ago bricked up windows, was once four stories high. The roof was of wooden timbers which contrasted with the bright metal grid which held the lights. The stage was at floor level with the auditorium holding 187 on a good day (more like 50 in this time of social distancing regulations), rising in a gentle rake. At the back of the stage were flats representing old wooden panelling, which were created for the last production staged – Daisy Pulls It Off, an old favourite of mine that I have directed twice in the past.

I can’t tell you of the sheer sense of pleasure with which I laid out my chair, table, hat stand and stool and began a cue to cue tech rehearsal to ensure that the various sound effects and lighting cues all worked.

I retired to my dressing room, got into costume, checked that my pocket watch was wound and that I had a Victorian penny in my waistcoat pocket and waited for the audience to arrive: all of those little details which give me such pleasure when I am in a theatre.

Out front the staff in their full PPE visors were busily ensuring that the audience were safely admitted having checked temperatures at the door in that terribly aggressive and threatening gun-to-the-head stance that has become part of our lives now. The seats in the auditorium were marked with a cross or a tick and slowly the open seats filled up.

At 3pm I got the nod from Gerry and the show began. It was so good to be on stage again, to be bathed in theatrical light, to have space to move, to hear the response from the small, but enthusiastic audience as I guided them through Ebenezer’s somewhat interrupted night.

At the end of my performance it had been agreed that I would return to the stage to conduct a question and answer session, but before I could do that I had to wait back stage until those that wanted to leave had carefully been ushered from the auditorium. Naturally the pessimistic nature of an actor led me to assume that when I came back into the lights I would be greeted by an empty house so I was most happily surprised to find the large majority of the audience still in their seats. The questions that followed were fun, allowing me plenty of scope to tell my favourite anecdotes – you know the ones by now – but also to discuss the craft of staging the show. One questioner commented on my breaking of the fourth wall, that is talking directly to the audience rather than maintaining the character and scene within the set, and I was pleased that she appreciated this device because it is an important part of the stage show, as well as of the film. In the original text Charles Dickens uses the narrator’s voice in a very personal way, occasionally slipping in little asides as if he is sitting close to the reader guiding them through the story and I have always strived to capture that same approach on stage.

Between the matinee and the evening show all of the volunteers gathered to enjoy a supper of salmon and salad, followed by a delicious citrus polenta cake, all provided by Brenda. It was during this dinner that I learned more about the Sharnbrook Mill Theatre and the amazing team of volunteers that keep it afloat. There was a mill on the site from as long ago as 1086 but the oldest part of the current building was constructed in 1703. Milling ceased in 1969 and the building lay crumbling for a decade until it re-opened as a theatre in 1979.

Sharnbrook Mill Theatre is staffed and run entirely by volunteers who this year were awarded with the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service, or QAVS. The QAVS is equivalent to the MBE and is the highest award a voluntary group can receive in the UK. Everyone connected with the theatre was justifiably very proud of this recognition but due to the extraordinary circumstances of the year had not yet been able to celebrate, so the day of my show was a perfect opportunity to pat each other on the back and raise a glass.

I felt extremely honoured to be part of these celebrations and to meet so many passionate, committed and utterly professional people. I very much look forward to returning to The Sharnbrook Mill Theatre in the coming months and to performing to a full house in the beautifully atmospheric audiortium.

To view my film of A Christmas Carol visit: http://www.geralddickens.com

Questions. So Many Questions

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Over the last few days I have spent quite a bit of time sitting in front of my laptop in a Christmas sweater (red with snowmen, to be precise) chatting via Zoom about my new film of A Christmas Carol. Yesterday I spent a very entertaining hour in the company of audience members from The Mid Continent Public Library Service in Kansas City who posed some fascinating questions, and I thought it may be fun to air some of them here so that the debate can move onto a larger platform. The answers to these questions are open to interpretation and derive not so much from fact but from a few clues buried deep within the text that was written so quickly in December 1843. I hope you have fun coming to your own conclusions:

Friendship: was Jacob Marley Scrooge’s only true friend?

We know that Scrooge and Marley were close in that they formed a business and ran it together for ‘I don’t know how many years’. The two men presumably shared the same opinions, morals and aspirations and the firm had the name of Scrooge and Marley. Ebenezer, we are told, never painted out Jacob’s name after his death, although that was probably less to do with friendship and more to do with the cost of paint! Scrooge was, as Dickens points out, his sole friend and his sole mourner. So, yes a friendship was certainly there, but does it go deeper?

The opening chapter of the book bears Marley’s name and it is also in the first sentence of the novel, in fact it is the very first word, so we know from the outset that Jacob Marley is important to what will unfold, but just how strong is his influence over old Ebenezer will be confirmed in the following pages. For the rest of the first chapter not a single other character is referred to by their name, even though there is plenty of traffic passing through Ebenezer’s office on Christmas Eve: apart from his faithful clerk who sits in a ‘sort of a tank’, Scrooge’s ever cheerful and faithful nephew comes to call, as do two gentlemen collecting for charity. A carol singer stoops to the keyhole in the hope of making a penny. Not only does Scrooge dismiss all of these individuals but neither he or the narrator refers to any of them by name, they are simply ‘the clerk’, ‘the nephew’ and ‘the gentlemen’. The next time a name is mentioned is when Scrooge is standing in front of his door: ‘Let it also be borne in mind that Scrooge had not bestowed one thought on Marley since his last mention of his seven years dead partner that afternoon.’ Marley again.

When the ghost eventually appears, the two men, after a bit of ill-tempered banter (‘Can you sit down?’ ‘I can!’ ‘Do it then’, ‘You don’t believe in me’, ‘I don’t!’), fall into a conversation as Marley warns his friend what lies in store and, more to the point, Scrooge listens Ebenezer doesn’t simply call him Marley, but actually uses his first name, ‘Jacob, tell me more, speak comfort to me Jacob.’ Indeed, Scrooge goes so far as to say that ”you were always a good friend to me. Thank ‘ee’.

The chains that Jacob bears belong also to Ebenezer and Dickens uses this imagery to shackle them together in genuine friendship. Unless Scrooge can change, unless he learns from the three spirits, only then will those chains be broken.

Of course Scrooge has little choice but to spend time with the ghosts and indeed he does repent and change his ways and at the end of the book he refers to Jacob just once before he rushes into the streets and visits his nephew whom he addresses as ‘Fred’ upon arrival. The next morning he surprises his clerk and wishes him ‘A Merry Christmas Bob!’ And of his old long deceased friend? ‘Scrooge had no further intercourse with the spirits….’, there is no name, Marley has now become a function, as the mortal characters were in the opening chapter, and is consigned to the skies to continue his long and weary journey – unless by helping his only true friend Jacob is also released from the shackles that bound him to Ebenezer and is allowed to leave purgatory to spend eternity at peace.

A final observation about friendship was pointed out by the questioner in Kansas City: when Fred, the nephew, is pleading with Scrooge he says ‘I want nothing from you; I ask nothing of you; why cannot we be friends?’ At that point friendship seems to be out of the question but it is obviously an important target for Fred to aim for.

Was Scrooge’s father visited by spirits too, thereby softening his attitude and bringing his son home at Christmas?

When Ebenezer is taken to see his old school by the Ghost of Christmas Past he is saddened to see ‘his poor forgotten self as he used to be’ and can only mutter ‘poor boy’ as he remembers the solitude and despondency of the Christmas holidays when he alone was left in the long bare room. Every other child had been taken home but Scrooge’s father seems not to have cared for his son. When the spirit shows Scrooge another Christmas we can assume that a number of years have passed, for the description of decay is more than might be expected in a single year: ‘Scrooge’s former self grew larger at the words and the room became a little darker and more dirty. The panels shrunk, the windows cracked; fragments of plaster fell from the ceiling and the naked laths were shown instead.’ We are certainly led to believe that every Christmas that past was the same and young Scrooge was simply abandoned. But suddenly a ray of light bursts into the scene, in the person of Scrooge’s younger sister Fan, who skips and squeals and jumps and hugs before telling Ebenezer that ‘I have come to bring you home dear brother, to bring you home, home, home! Home for good and all, home for ever and ever. Father is so much kinder than he used to be, that home’s like Heaven. He spoke so gently to me one dear night when I was going to bed, that I was not afraid to ask him again if you might come home; and he said Yes you should; and sent me in a coach to bring you. And you’re to be a man! And are never to come back here; but first we are to be together all the Christmas time long and have the merriest time in all the world!’

I have always assumed in the past that Scrooge’s father only recalled him from school because he is of an age at which he can work and earn his keep, and this is undoubtedly true, but there is more, there is a tenderness in the gesture and little Fan’s words tell a deeper story: ‘Father is so much kinder than he used to be….’, we have to ask ‘how was he before?’ Fan intimates that she used to be scared of him at her bed time, so was he violent and abusive to his children? It is plain that he is looking after the family alone for there is no mention of a mother, so perhaps he was depressed or possibly alcoholic, but now the little girl tells us that ‘home is like Heaven’: a huge change has come about somehow. If Scrooge was simply to be sent to work by a dominant, abusive patriarch it is unlikely that he and Fan would be allowed to be together all the Christmas time long having the merriest time in all the world. Something has definitely altered in the Scrooge household, and it is entirely possible that in this world of ghosts, the spirits have already been at work (later in the book, the Ghost of Christmas Present tells Ebenezer that ‘my time on this globe is very brief….’ – the word THIS suggests that he has plenty of other Christmas days to visit.

A lovely little touch is that little Fan explains to Ebenezer that father sent her in a coach to bring him home and this is mirrored at the very end of the book when he sees the prize turkey and exclaims ‘Why, it is impossible to carry that to Camden Town. You must have a cab!’

The reconciliation of Scrooge and his father is repeated in the reconciliation of Scrooge and his nephew, his only living relation and the only link to his little sister Fan.

Charles Dickens also had a sister named Fan, short for Frances, although she was two years older than he and not younger as in the book, but the difference in their childhood lifestyles was just as profound. Whilst young Charles was sent to work at Warren’s blacking factory and his education was paid scant attention to, his sister was sent to the Royal Academy of Music where she won two prizes. The gulf between the siblings never led to any open jealousy between them although Dickens would confide later in life how much it secretly hurt him. Frances had two sons, one being very sickly and weak – a certain model for Tiny Tim. But unlike the fictional child, Harry would die in 1848, shortly after his mother. They were buried together at Highgate Cemetery.

Frances Dickens

The Charity Collectors

This section is based purely on my invention and I cite little evidence from the text for my conclusions, but there is a question to be asked: who are the charity collectors?

We know that Scrooge is well known in the City of London and that his office is in a most prestigious area close to the Bank of England and the Stock Exchange During the vision of the future Ebenezer is shown other affluent merchants discussing his death as they fiddle with gold seals on their watch chains (an important detail to establish wealth and success), and we are told that Scrooge recognises them. One of the gentlemen says ‘When I come to think of it, I’m not at all sure that I wasn’t his most particular friend; for we used to stop and speak whenever we met.’ The reason for pointing all of this out is to ask why on earth the charity collectors didn’t know if Scrooge was Scrooge or if he was Marley? If they had any background in the City they would have known that soliciting Scrooge for a donation would have been futile and it would have been much better use of their time to pass by the door and head towards a more benevolent gent.

So, we must come to the conclusion that these particular collectors are new to town and I have invented a scenario in which their other more experienced and hardened colleagues have sent them into the lion’s den as a kind of prank, or possibly an initiation test. Of course they feel the full force of Scrooge’s ire even though they try to convince him with their carefully prepared statements, but leave with nothing seeing that it would be ‘useless to pursue their point’ No doubt they slouch back to the office where they are greeted with huge guffaws of laughter.

Imagine then, only a few hours later, next morning indeed, when old Ebenezer bounds up to them, wishes them a Merry Christmas and whispers that he wants to make a huge pledge to the charity, ‘a good many back payments are included in it, I assure you!’. I imagine they rush back to the office with the news and calmly tell their astounded friends ‘oh, that old Scrooge, he just needed the right approach, that’s all! Simple really, I don’t know what all of the fuss was about!’

I am sure that there are plenty of other scenes in the book which can be disassembled and explored, and I would be fascinated to know of anything that you may have spotted or questioned. The film has given me the opportunity to look at my script, and the original material, from a different perspective and it may well be that come Christmas 2021 the show might have changed a little…..

To view the film go to my website: http://www.geralddickens.com

Winterthur

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In a normal year I would be reaching the last few venues of my tour and over the decades these have tumbled around the schedule in various orders, giving me plenty of choice as to which one to choose from my online memory feed. Today it is Winterthur in the tiny state of Delaware.

The Winterthur estate was originally built by HF DuPont, whose family owned most of Delaware thanks to the fortune amassed through, firstly, gunpowder and then latterly petrochemicals. Nowadays visitors flock to the property and take tours of the house, wondering at the magnificence of life in an age that boasted the Rockerfellers, the Vanderbilts and the Astors, as well as the DuPonts atop the rich lists.

Such is the popularity of Winterthur that it was necessary to build a visitor centre a short distance from the mansion to meet, greet and feed the thousands of guests who flocked there, and it is this building that becomes my home during two days each December. Like so many of my venues I have been visiting Winterthur for many years and have a close relationship with the excellent team there – Ellen, who runs my shows and Barbara, who is in charge of the well stocked shop and whose office I use as a changing room. That office is a real highlight of being at Winterthur as Barbara has the walls covered in little cartoons which always make me laugh.

A visit to Winterthur doesn’t start when I leave the car in the huge parking lot and make my way to the visitor centre, it begins early in the morning, usually in darkness, often in sleet, rain or snow, when I leave my previous venue which has tended to be The Country Cupboard in Lewisburg during recent years. I make my way back along the Susquehanna towards Harrisburg and from there towards Lancaster and into Amish country where rumbling trucks are replaced by fragile looking gigs pulled by ponies.

The icy crags of the Susquehanna valley give way to gently undulating fields studded with silos as I pass through the suggestively named Intercourse (the name most likely came from the fact that the village sits at a cross roads and was therefore a site for meeting and discussions – I was going to write ‘debate’ but feared I would mire myself even deeper into innuendo), and on towards Gap with its quirky lighthouse-shaped clock tower. It is always a happy drive and one that is invariably accompanied by my Christmas playlist.

I drive through Chad’s Ford and passed the Fairville Inn guest house, which is my extremely homely and comfortable lodgings, before crossing the line from Pennsylvania into Delaware and turn off the road to make my way along the serpentine driveway which leads me ‘home’.

The actual venue for my shows is the Copeland Lecture Theatre, attached to the visitor centre, and which is one of the most remarkable rooms I have ever had the pleasure of performing in. It doesn’t have an impressive stage for it is very definitely a lecture theatre, it has some lighting but nothing really theatrical, it doesn’t have a balcony so the auditorium is very long. The hall has no particular history, and Charles Dickens never visited this area, so what makes the venue so special to me? A carefully designed and shaped ceiling, that’s what. The acoustics of The Copeland Lecture Theatre, created purely by the shape of the room, are beyond compare and I can speak in my normal voice from the stage and know that the people sat in the furthest reaches of the room can hear me quite clearly. It took me many years to have confidence in the room and many was the time that I would walk onto the stage and look at the sea of faces diminishing towards a far distant vanishing point and doubt that I could do the show without electronic aids, but I always can.

Of course a perfect hall is nothing without an enthusiastic audience, and the people who come to Winterthur in their Christmas sweaters and warm scarves are always a lively and fun bunch who join in loudly and applaud long.

One particular pleasure of my visits to the Winterthur estate has been the opportunity to view two amazing exhibitions of costumes. During the years that Downton Abbey was popular, Winterthur forged close ties with Highclere Castle (where I also perform), and welcomed Lady Carnarvon on a number of occasions to speak about ‘The Real Downton Abbey’. In 2014 a major exhibition of costumes from the series was opened and early one morning I was able to have a special tour. It was a brilliantly curated exhibit displaying each costume in front of still photography, copies of scripts and video clips. With the ending of Downton so Winterthur turned its attentions to the next big British drama and mounted another exhibition, this time featuring The Crown, Netflix’s drama based on the life of Queen Elizabeth II. Once again I was snuck in before opening and marvelled at the craftsmanship and accuracy of the beautiful creations, ranging from the coronation regalia to Princess Margaret’s swinging 60s dresses.

Maybe one day they will mount an exhibition of costumes from my show, although I do admit they will only need a very small room! At least in my film version of A Christmas Carol I wear two different waistcoats and two different cravats, but I grant you it may not be the most thrilling experience. Perhaps I should just stick to performing in The Copeland Hall where I hope to be in 2021.

To rent my film and to view BOTH costumes, go to: http://www.geralddickens.com/films.html

Luxury! The Café Royal and The Williamsburg Inn

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This week the British government announced new lockdown measures which place London in the very highest tier of restrictions. Many people’s work and social lives will be affected by this measure but it was absolutely necessary as the infection rates in the capital city were doubling every five days and beginning to spiral out of control. For me this has meant the cancellation of eight shows over the course of the next week which were due to be performed in one of the most prestigious locations in the city: The Hotel Café Royal on Regent’s Street. The relationship with the Café Royal is a new one for this year and together we were greatly looking forward to entertaining guests with my performance of A Christmas Carol whilst they ate a sumptuous afternoon tea in the spectacular gilded and mirrored surroundings of the Oscar Wilde Lounge.

We are very hopeful that we can reschedule, and perform early in the new year, so watch this space!

The disappointment of the loss of my opportunity to experience the luxury of the Café Royal was slightly mollified by today’s phone memory photographs, for this was the day a few years ago when I was performing at one of my favourite USA venues: The Williamsburg Inn in the heart of Colonial Williamsburg.

The Inn is a truly elegant and spectacular hotel with surroundings and service of the highest calibre. Each suite (no such thing as something so mundane as a ‘room’ there) is different and furnished with items of antique furniture, whilst soft music purrs from a Bose sound system. Coffee makers sit ready to fill tiny china cups which will sit on tiny china saucers. The bath tubs are the size of small swimming pools and the towels are soft and fluffy. I have visited Williamsburg for many many years now and have formed a great relationship with the staff, as well as with the guests who return each year to watch my shows.

Any stay at The Williamsburg Inn is special but on a few occasions I have been very fortunate to be given the suite that was used by the Queen herself when she visited in 2007. Oh what luxury! As I entered and walked from room to room I imagined the Queen doing the same: Her Majesty sat on that sofa, she wrote at that desk, she slept in that bed, and in the bathroom….no, I couldn’t allow myself to imagine her in there!

As would have happened at The Café Royal I always performed during a meal service at the Inn, either afternoon tea or dinner, and all of the events were held in the beautiful Regency Room. My ‘stage’ is on the dance floor in the centre of the room and the tables are set all around meaning that I can roam and run into the audience and even cajole individuals to become part of the story, which is always fun.

I have may close friends in Williamsburg, most especially Ryan Fletcher – a gentle giant who always made my introductions at the beginning of each performance. Ryan is an opera singer, who passes his great knowledge and skill to students at the nearby William & Mary College. Ryan and I have shared many convivial evenings discussing life on the road and on occasion we have been fortunate enough to be joined by his wife Jeannie, and also Liz who for a few years was able to fly from England to join me for the last week or so of my tours and share the luxury of The Williamsburg Inn.

A few years ago I was asked to do a photo and video shoot for the marketing team at Williamsburg, the team set me up in one of the lounges where I was surrounded by lights, flash units and reflectors. Would I mind simply reading from A Christmas Carol while they captured the footage that they needed and during that afternoon my show changed completely.

As I relaxed into an armchair I realised that the a simple telling of the story was much more effective than the overly dramatic way I was currently utilising. I used to be scared if I didn’t get emphasis from every single word, so a passage of charming dialogue was used like a sledge hammer to batter my audiences into submission: EV-ER-Y SYL-L-A-BLE WAS EMPH-A-SISED TO MAKE IT MORE DRA-MA-TIC! There was no light and shade. For that evening’s show I decided to try in a new style and the show was transformed, it became much more personal and re-captured the beautiful device that Charles Dickens used to place the narrator at the reader’s shoulder. It is for this reason that in the film version I have used lots of narrative direct to the camera.

So, my 2020 Christmas season has been culled a little further but there are still two events that have survived: in Liverpool and Henley. keep your fingers crossed!

To watch my film version of A Christmas Carol go to: http://www.geralddickens.com/films.html

Back to the Stage and a Muppet Inspiration

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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.

The Country Cupboard in Lewisburg and The Bogata

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Being guided by my Facebook and OneDrive memory bank has meant that for a few days there has been nothing new to describe, as all of the posts have concerned the venues that I have already described: Nashua, The Berkshires, Omaha and Kansas City, but today a new one popped up: The Country Cupboard in Lewisburg, PA.

The Country Cupboard is a an amazing complex of destination, gift store and restaurant, the latter which offers the MOST SPECTACULAR buffet. I perform in a large function room on a wide stage, well lit and furnished, therefore giving me plenty of scope to play every scene properly. In my early years there the performance would be to a cabaret style audience, sat at large tables, but in recent years we have moved to a more traditional theatre setting. The audience are always enthusiastic and join in at the appropriate moments with great gusto, for many have seen the show multiple times and know when to, and more importantly when not to, shout out.

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As with all of my venues there is a small group of people that I work with at The Country Cupboard and we have become a good and close team over the years. Firstly there is Missy who runs the whole show with quiet efficiency, juggling my various needs with those of the huge audiences all of whom need to be fed at the buffet before being marshalled into ‘the theatre’ in time for the show to start. Missy always pays huge attention to detail and remembers exactly what is needed, for example one year I had a scratchy throat that needed soothing and I asked it were possible to have a cup of black tea with some honey before the show and now, every year when I arrive in the store and stand at the back of the room, watching the audience gather, there will always be a cup of tea and honey waiting for me. The other arm of our Lewisburg triumvirate is Kj Reimensnyder-Wagner a singer and songwriter who entertains the gathering crowds before the show. Kj has such a peaceful and gentle touch as a performer and soothes away any anger or frustration that may be welling up in the audience with her chat and beautiful voice. We make a good team, the three of us.

But the Lewisburg experience is so much more than the performances at The Country Cupboard, for the journey there has become a hugely important tradition for me. I will usually be driving from the south of the state, through Harrisburg and then hugging the banks of the beautiful Susquehanna River as I drive north.

The drive is an impressive and familiar one to me now and I look out for little landmarks along the way: there are the amazing long bridges crossing the river, which Charles Dickens vividly described in American Notes when he visited the city in 1842, and there is the strange replica of the Statue of Liberty which sits on a crumbling parapet which once supported a bridge but which long ago fell into the waters. The current statue is made of metal, but the original Harrisburg Lady was made as a prank in 1986 out of old venetian blinds!

Further on I always make sure I stop at the little township of Liverpool where I can walk to the river’s edge and take photographs.

Pennsylvania is regarded as a microcosm of America as a whole in that the state boasts large liberal affluent metropolitan areas such as Philadelphia, but also swathes of rural farmland and mountainous hunting regions. The drive to Lewisburg encompasses pretty the whole range of demographics.

I am always afforded a warm welcome when I arrive and I stay in a small hotel next to the store. I always have the same room with its little kitchen area and a huge whirlpool bathtub in which I can relax between the matinee and evening performances. Everything about performing at the Country Cupboard is familiar and easy and above all FUN!

Another venue that appeared on my memories was from longer ago: my two years at the Bogata Casino in Atlantic City, on the New Jersey coast. I am not a gambler and never have been, so casinos hold a sort of unreachable and dangerous fascination to me. I have visited Vegas in the past (officially I can say I played on The Strip) as well as Monaco and Macau and each time I have felt as if I had landed in an alien environment. If someone made me sit at a gaming table I wouldn’t have known what to say or do. It is strange therefore that one of my favourite opening passages to a book is set in such a setting:

“The scent and smoke and sweat of a casino are nauseating at three in the morning. Then the soul-erosion produced by high gambling – a compost of greed and fear and nervous tension – becomes unbearable and the senses awake and revolt from it.”

I was invited to The Bogata not only to perform but also to make a special guest appearance, in the character of Ebenezer Scrooge, at a huge holiday party thrown for the high rollers who had won and lost big during the year. The party was a celebration of wealth and greed and during it huge swathes of cash and prizes were handed over in thanks (as one of the directors whispered to me it was no skin off the nose of the casino for most of the money would be handed back over the tables later that night.) Usually old Ebenezer is a figure of fun but on this occasion he was there to be admired for his singular pursuit of wealth. I have to say the whole experience didn’t sit comfortably with me.

What I did enjoy at The Bogata, however, was the theatre itself: a huge space akin to one of the theatres on a cruise ship and packed with every technical gizmo that I could wish for: lighting of all moods and colours, as well as dry ice that would seep across the stage like ghostly fingers groping toward the audience.

I had asked if we should perform the show in two acts but the staff said definitely not for if we let the audience out in an interval they would head straight for the gaming tables and slot machines and we’d never see them again!

The Bogata was never destined to be a constant on tour, in the way that Nashua, Sutton and Chalfont are, but my two years there certainly opened my eyes and were an amazing experience.

Back in 2020 the season moves on and I am getting ready to actually perform at the weekend. Over the next few days promotion for the film continues with a series of interviews as well as some Q&A sessions with various organisations around the globe. Exciting times, indeed and in a few days I will be able to announce a new collaboration which means a great deal to me.

For those who are unable to see my show this year don’t forget that the film version is available on Vimeo throughout the Christmas season and is available via my website:

http://www.geralddickens.com/films.html

The Season Begins (Virtually)

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On 7 December, 2020 my Christmas season as a performer finally begun. For the first time (if for now we discount the four days in October when I was filming), I actually had the opportunity to address an audience and hopefully entertain them! The stage was my kitchen, and the auditoria were various homes in and around the Kansas City area, as I took part in a Webinar (one of those words which, like the virus itself, has seeped into our lives and taken residency there unbidden and unnoticed) organised by my dear old friends at the Mid Continent Public Library System in Missouri. You may remember from previous blog posts that the library service had been instrumental in the making of my film and so had asked if I could attend a virtual session to take questions from their patrons, a request that I was happy to agree to even it meant waiting up until midnight, which would be 6pm in the central time zone in America.

As the evening passed by I tried to find a suitable spot in our kitchen to speak from, where the detritus of our everyday could be shuffled out of camera shot. There were certainly areas elsewhere in the house that would work, but I wanted to ensure that I didn’t wake the rest of the household who would be snoozing soundly at that hour. In the end, by moving a food mixer, a toaster, a bread bin, various pieces of fruit and a couple of cake tins, I could sit at our table with an empty counter over my shoulder. To make the scene more festive I gathered together 2 carollers from Byers’ Choice and some of the chalkware Santas from The Vaillancourts and set them behind me, carefully disguising the electrical outlets.

At 11.30pm I logged onto the Zoom link and watched a screensaver made up of various still promotional photographs from the film, and some pictures taken at branches of the library service over the years. Goodness, my beard is grey these days: Ho, ho, ho!

At midnight up popped Cheryl, and welcomed the audience, whom I could not see, to the event. She explained that I would be talking for around twenty minutes and then we would virtually open the virtual floor to questions and then handed over to me. I began by expressing my sorrow that I could not be in Kansas City this year but was delighted that I could chat through this forum. It was a heartfelt and good opening I thought but one which fell entirely on deaf ears! Suddenly lots of ‘Mr Dickens, we cant hear you’ ‘Is your microphone on?’ ‘Try clicking unmute’ interrupted my flow. Ahh, technology: the saviour and bane of 2020. After checking various settings on my laptop without success I switched to my phone and the evening was rescued.

My opening remarks concentrated on the gestation of the film, how the idea had developed, how I had chosen the locations and how Emily Walder, the amazing videographer and editor, had captured my dream for the project and collaborated in creating something that I am truly proud of.

After my twenty minutes were up we threw open the floor to questions, and there were some good ones:

‘Who is your favourite character to perform….’ Ah, an easy one to start, ‘….except Scrooge!’ Oh, not so easy then! I chose Bob Cratchit because there is a most important change of emotion during the course of the book as he moves from cheerful and resigned to truly heartbroken. The portrayal of Bob has to be genuine and realistic in comparison to some of the more grotesque caricatures elsewhere in the story, so he creates a greater challenge which I was able to explore more fully on film than I can on stage – the scene when he breaks down for his lost child is a moment that genuinely brought tears to my eyes the first time I watched the completed movie.

‘If you were to meet Charles Dickens what would you ask him?’ Wow! I think I would I would be so nervous I wouldn’t be able to say anything. However, having found my tongue, I would want to chat about theatre – his feelings as he performed, and how the voices and expressions of the characters come to him. I’d like to know if he imagined his literary characters in 3D (there is evidence that he would perform passages of dialogue to himself as he walked or in front of a mirror). I would like to know about the details of his life on the road: the ups and the downs. Basically, I would like to compare notes, but more than anything I would love to stand at the back of a hall and watch him perform.

‘What is your favourite passage in the novel’ (this from a teacher who has taught A Christmas Carol for many years). This is an interesting question because probably my favourite piece of writing doesn’t feature in my show, it is the wonderful passage when Scrooge is taken on his travels by the Ghost of Christmas Present:

‘And now, without a word of warning from the Ghost, they stood upon a bleak and desert moor, where monstrous masses of rude stone were cast about, as though it were the burial-place of giants; and water spread itself wheresoever it listed, or would have done so, but for the frost that held it prisoner; and nothing grew but moss and furze, and coarse rank grass. Down in the west the setting sun had left a streak of fiery red, which glared upon the desolation for an instant, like a sullen eye, and frowning lower, lower, lower yet, was lost in the thick gloom of darkest night.

`What place is this.’ asked Scrooge.

`A place where Miners live, who labour in the bowels of the earth,’ returned the Spirit. `But they know me. See.’

A light shone from the window of a hut, and swiftly they advanced towards it. Passing through the wall of mud and stone, they found a cheerful company assembled round a glowing fire. An old, old man and woman, with their children and their children’s children, and another generation beyond that, all decked out gaily in their holiday attire. The old man, in a voice that seldom rose above the howling of the wind upon the barren waste, was singing them a Christmas song — it had been a very old song when he was a boy — and from time to time they all joined in the chorus. So surely as they raised their voices, the old man got quite blithe and loud; and so surely as they stopped, his vigour sank again.

The Spirit did not tarry here, but bade Scrooge hold his robe, and passing on above the moor, sped — whither. Not to sea. To sea. To Scrooge’s horror, looking back, he saw the last of the land, a frightful range of rocks, behind them; and his ears were deafened by the thundering of water, as it rolled and roared, and raged among the dreadful caverns it had worn, and fiercely tried to undermine the earth.

Built upon a dismal reef of sunken rocks, some league or so from shore, on which the waters chafed and dashed, the wild year through, there stood a solitary lighthouse. Great heaps of sea-weed clung to its base, and storm-birds — born of the wind one might suppose, as sea-weed of the water — rose and fell about it, like the waves they skimmed.

But even here, two men who watched the light had made a fire, that through the loophole in the thick stone wall shed out a ray of brightness on the awful sea. Joining their horny hands over the rough table at which they sat, they wished each other Merry Christmas in their can of grog; and one of them: the elder, too, with his face all damaged and scarred with hard weather, as the figure-head of an old ship might be: struck up a sturdy song that was like a Gale in itself.

Again the Ghost sped on, above the black and heaving sea — on, on — until, being far away, as he told Scrooge, from any shore, they lighted on a ship. They stood beside the helmsman at the wheel, the look-out in the bow, the officers who had the watch; dark, ghostly figures in their several stations; but every man among them hummed a Christmas tune, or had a Christmas thought, or spoke below his breath to his companion of some bygone Christmas Day, with homeward hopes belonging to it. And every man on board, waking or sleeping, good or bad, had had a kinder word for another on that day than on any day in the year; and had shared to some extent in its festivities; and had remembered those he cared for at a distance, and had known that they delighted to remember him.

It is such an evocative passage and one I wish I could capture it for the stage somehow.

‘What was your favourite filming location?’ All of the locations brought something to the film and each is special because they have all featured in various Dickens novels, but I think the best location was the churchyard at Cooling which we not only used for the various ‘grave’ scenes, but also as a background for the narrator to tell the story. Cooling is in the middle of the countryside, so we should have enjoyed perfect peace, but our time there was beset with a surprisingly large amount of traffic using the little street, as well as huge heavy diesel truck going to and from a nearby quarry. A nearby farm had a bird scarer which let off a loud retort every twenty minutes or so sending flocks of crows into the sky, and we seemed to be on the flightpath of Rochester airport as executive jets screamed overhead. The fact we got such wonderful material is a testament to our patience and the wonders of good editing. My favourite shot from Cooling is the very final shot of the film as I walk away into a sunset (actually a sunrise, but let’s not quibble about that), and a little green light flare, an orb if you will, hovers like one of the three spirits saying its farewell.

All too soon 1am came around and it was time to say my goodbyes and sign off. It had been a lovely evening and the opportunity to finally have contact (virtual) with my audience again was very special. Next week the Library will be hosting another session, but before then I will actually be back on stage, for on Saturday I will be performing A Christmas Carol at the Sharnbrook Mill Theatre in Bedfordshire. I can’t wait!

to View the film and see the locations visit my website: http://www.geralddickens.com/films.html

A Christmas Carol, the Weekly Report: Becoming Movie Moguls.

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A week has past since my film version of A Christmas Carol was released and the word is spreading across the globe!

In the fog and rain of an English winter my thoughts have gone back to those few days of gloriously bright sunshine and crisp autumn colours when Emily, Jordan and I worked as quickly as we could in order to complete our filming before further lockdown measures were imposed. Only this week the government have announced new restrictions across the country and the county of Kent, where we filmed, is in the highest tier meaning it would have been impossible for us to return. So what we achieved in those few days was quite remarkable.

As I watch the film now I can remember setting up the scenes as I had imagined them but also those ‘happy accidents’ when an idea suddenly came to us. The room at Eastgate House that we used as Scrooge’s bedroom was on the top floor and it was only as I looked out of the window to the street below that I began to wonder if we could film from two different angles so as to create the conversation between Ebenezer and the little boy who runs to fetch the prize turkey.

It is one of the most successful sequences in the film and I hope that we can re-film a couple of other scenes next year, using the same idea, (although as has been pointed out to me, I will have to make sure that my beard has EXACTLY the same degree of bushiness with no further grey in it!)

The original reason for making the film was so that venues that I would normally be visiting (led in particular by the Mid Continent Public Library) could have access to my performance even though I couldn’t tour this year. The film would be made available to any of our sponsors who wanted to distribute it to their patrons. But with the amount of work that we put in we wanted to ensure that the end product was available to as many people as possible, however not being film distributors we didn’t have a network in place to get it out there: it was then that Bob Byers had a brilliant idea – we use every one else’s networks! The plan that Bob proposed, and we adopted, was that an organisation could sign up with us to act as distributors of the film. They would have a specific access link to Vimeo which they would promote in their emails and general marketing, and for each rental made as a result the organisation would receive a commission: the more rentals, the higher the end payment and all for no capital outlay – it was a win, win plan for everyone!

Many of our established venues, both in America and in England, leapt at the idea and are even now encouraging their customer bases to celebrate Christmas with Gerald Dickens, but now other groups are seeing the benefits too, for example our local school has signed up so that local families can all watch together over the next few weeks in lieu of nativity plays and carol concerts. Festivals have come on board as have museums and libraries and city councils. As more people watch our ‘ghostly little film’ (to borrow Charles Dickens’ own words in his preface to the first edition), the reviews and comments have started to come in too:

‘Bravo! This is wonderful – what a treat!’

 ‘It’s strange to know a text so well, anticipate what is coming, and still feel delight when it arrives.’

What the Dickens!  Gerald Dickens IS Charles Dickens for my money!

Gerald Dickens brings his great-great-grandfather’s story to life with so much humour and heart and truth.   This is A Christmas Carol told as it should be told – by Mr Dickens himself.

A plum pudding of a show – stuffed full of delights – and served with authentic Dickensian relish.  5 stars!

‘Wowza!! Amazing!!

‘It’s so cleverly put together. So we’ll observed. Dark where it needs to be dark, funny and uplifting where it should be, deeply emotional at all the places one expects.’

‘It’s a brilliant merging of a one-man stage performance with the luxuries that locations and sound effects allow.’

‘I LOVED IT !! FANTASTIC!!’

‘It is the story just as it should be – wonderfully ghostly but also fun, sad, happy and Christmassy.’

‘The Christmas Carol was awesome’

‘Well done – a great piece of work and a very entertaining hour of classic Christmas joy!’

‘Glorious – loved it loved it loved it!’

‘The film is wonderful! To see A Christmas Carol brought to life by Charles Dickens’ talented and delightful great-great-grandson has always been special, but to see it done against the backdrop of historic places Dickens himself knew brings the story to life in a unique and meaningful way that truly stirs the imagination.’

Looking ahead there is more and more media interest building as newspapers, radio, podcasts and TV all contact us daily for interviews. In England A Christmas Carol is a text on the GCSE exam syllabus and teachers are asking if they can use the film next year as a resource for their ongoing teaching. We are finding interest and enthusiasm from quarters that we hadn’t even considered

The film is taking on a life of its own and all in all I think that we as a team can be pretty pleased with our first week as movie moguls.

To watch the film visit my website: http://www.geralddickens.com/films.html

To enquire about being a distributor: gerald@geralddickens

Burlington, New Jersey

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I was surprised when Facebook furnished me with a memory from Burlington, New Jersey as I associate my visits there as being much later in my tour, but the truth is that the team at The Broad Street United Methodist Church have always been amazingly accommodating in fitting in with the rest of my schedule, meaning that events there have been staged at various different times.

Burlington is another venue that goes way back to the years before I started working with Byers’ Choice and in the first years I didn’t perform in the wonderful old church that has become as close a friend as Laura, Joe, Marica and the rest of the team there. I cant quite remember the circumstances but there was another church in town that happened to be staging a production of A Christmas Carol and had a magnificent set built, so we used that. I remember not quite understanding how the scenery and the building worked and so at one point when I exited I discovered that I couldn’t find my way back onto the stage again – the panic must have only been for an instant and the audience probably didn’t even notice, but to me in the backstage dark it felt like an age! I was more careful with how I used the set after that.

Burlington sits on the banks of the Delaware River and is closer to Philadelphia than any major city in New Jersey. Broad Street is, as the name suggests, very wide and has a tram service which rattles and clangs along its centre providing extra sound effects at the most inopportune, or if I am very lucky at the most opportune, moments. The Church was originally formed in 1770 (making this year their 250th anniversary) and construction of the present began in 1847. The new church was dedicated in 1854 and comprised a bright, airy and spacious sanctuary, complete with a balcony wrapping around three walls.

The altar and the organ are situated on different levels on a stepped dais and a gently curving rail separates the area from the wooden pews. All of this actually creates a wonderful stage area for me to play with, and the whole space is friendly and comfortable.

When I look back at my years performing in Burlington it is amazing how many times I have tried out something new in the show, which has found a permanent place in the production – I think that I must feel very safe in the environment and know that the audience are supportive, allowing me to take slight risks without fear.

And here I would like to say a word about the Church in the community: to me The Broad Street United Methodist Church is everything that a Church should be, there is never a feeling that a particular doctrine is being forced upon one, and there is never a feeling of resentment that an individual does not share those beliefs (I have definitely felt that in some Church communities that I have been involved with over the years). The main feeling at BSUMC is one of caring, nurturing and acceptance. My dressing room is in a small room beneath the stage and at Christmas time the shelves are stacked high with canned goods to distribute among the homeless and needy, meaning that the scene with the charity collector visiting Scrooge on Christmas Eve who points out that ‘many thousands are in want of common necessaries; hundreds of thousands are in want of common comforts, sir.’ takes on a greater poignancy and meaning for me.

The team at Burlington are a cheerful and fun lot, lead by Laura Jaskot and her husband Joe. They are ably assisted by a large group of volunteers but I particularly want to mention Marcia and her late husband Bob. Marcia has always taken it upon herself to provide me with a cup of tea! Served in a bone china teapot, with a matching bone china cup and saucer the tea waits for me in my dressing room and again on the table when I begin my signing sessions after the performance has been concluded. At some point the team discovered that my favourite biscuit (or cookie), is a very plain Rich Tea, made in England by McVities. Somehow an American outlet which stocks Rich Teas was discovered and Marcia made sure that I felt truly at home.

Marcia’s husband Bob used to operate the sound system in the Church and would take great pride in making everything perfect – we would undertake long sound checks as he tweaked balances and levels until he was absolutely satisfied that all was right. It was a pleasure to work with him but a few years ago I arrived in Burlington to learn that Bob had passed away, so that year the show was performed in his honour: never has the usually comical line ‘No Bob’ held such weight of feeling. Marcia and I had a long hug that year as we remembered a true gentleman.

I had so hoped to be part of the BSUMC’s 250th anniversary celebrations this year, but fate has ruled otherwise but I have no doubt that by embracing technology the Church has continued its outreach programme and pulled the community closer together than it might otherwise have been.

I may not be on the stage this year, but the congregation and the wider audience will be able to see my new performance on film and hopefully next year we can all get together again to drink tea, eat Rich Tea biscuits and put the world to rights once more!

To view the film of A Christmas Carol visit: www,geralddickens.com/films.html

#AChristmasCarol2020