A Child's Journey With Dickens, A Christmas Carol, Byers'Choice, Delta Airlines, Detroit DTW, Ebenezer Scrooge, Enterprise Car Rental, Field of Dreams, Heathrow Airport, Hilton Garden Inn, Kansas City, Mid Continent Public Library, The Shawshank Redemption, Toyota Venza
It is the start of November, and the leaves are falling from the trees, in England the days have been wet and squally, but with occasional crisp, fresh periods of crystal-clear sunlight creating a farewell finale to the beauty of Autumn before it is totally consumed by the dark winter months. Pumpkins were briefly displayed on doorsteps, including ours, and houses were decorated for Hallowe’en. The night of the 31st itself was busier on the streets of Abingdon than I had seen before and the atmosphere among the gruesomely attired trick or treaters was more akin to those we have witnessed in America films and TV shows.
All of this is an annual prelude to the first part of my annual American tour and on Tuesday 1 November I packed my cases ready to depart early in the morning of the 2nd. The build-up to my travel day had been quite stressful, as I had been unable to check in for my flight. The Delta airlines app insisted that I uploaded my Covid vaccination status, but when I did, the system refused to accept it, saying that the brand of vaccine was not approved in America and I would need to prove some alternative – which seemed odd, as I had travelled quite successfully only a month or so ago. There seemed no way to contact Delta, only endless pages of FAQs so I was not sure if I would actually be allowed to board a plane when I reached the airport.
On Wednesday morning I finished my packing and put on my new fleece jacket, branded for my tour emblazoned with the GD monogram and A Christmas Carol legend originally created for my website a few years ago. The corporate look was completed by a baseball cap and I was ready to tour!
My taxi arrived at the door at 6.45 and having said our farewells (which even after all these years never get any easier) I headed towards Heathrow airport’s terminal 3 building.
The traffic was heavy, and I was later arriving than I would have liked and to my dismay there was a long queue winding through the terminal leading to the bag drop. I found an official and she began to check me in. I held my breath as she asked to see my proof of vaccination, and after a cursory glance at the paperwork, she handed it back and sent me on my way – the first hurdle was cleared. There was still the matter of actually getting to the gate in time for the flight, but the Delta staff were on it, and called for anyone booked on the 9.40 flight to Detroit to come to the front. My bag was perilously close to the weight limit, but the agent at the desk caught sight of my fleece and asked about A Christmas Carol. I explained about my show, and we discussed the amazing production at The Old Vic theatre, which we had both seen last year. It was one of those lovely moments when the hustle and bustle of everyday life gave way to a moment of personal connection, although I was aware that my flight was starting to board, and I had yet to clear security.
I could build the tension even more by describing the taking off jacket and belt and watch, and having to wait to be patted down, as time ticked on, but actually the process passed quite calmly, and I arrived at the gate just as pre-boarding began. Unfortunately, I hadn’t been able to have any breakfast at the airport. I had eaten a single slice of toast at home to keep me going but was looking forward to a more substantial repast as I waited to board, but the heavy traffic and the long lines had scuppered that idea, so I would have to wait for the inflight service at 40.000 feet to satiate my hunger.
The flight was fairly busy, but I had an open seat next to me, which is always a treat, and I settled in for 7 hours across the Atlantic. As I sat, I noticed that the bags were being loaded just beneath my window and it was with a great sense of relief that I was able to witness my blue case being placed on the conveyor belt which entered the hold. It is always a reassuring thing to actually witness your bag being on the same vehicle as oneself.
My film choices on the flight included The Shawshank Redemption and Field of Dreams, neither of which I had seen for many years, and neither of which have lost their respective impacts (especially Shawshank). ‘Breakfast’ was a chicken pesto dish, followed by ice cream, which was surprisingly tasty. Beneath us were the icy waters of the North Atlantic, until we made landfall over Gander (‘Welcome to the Rock’) and headed up the St Lawrence over Quebec, Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto and on to Detroit.
Whilst in my seat I could glimpse the TV screen in the row ahead of me and on two occasions it sent memories and messages to me. The first was when it was in its screen saver mode and just displayed details of our flight: LHR-DTW, Heathrow to Detroit. It was the latter code that stirred the memories in me, for my acting career really started with a youth drama group in my home town of Tunbridge Wells, which was called Design Theatre Workshop, more commonly referred to as DTW. Almost everything I know about theatre I learned in my teenage years at DTW, and it is a time that I talk about at length in a new book about my theatrical life, which should be published in time for next year’s tour.
DTW didn’t exist purely to put on shows, it wasn’t just another AmDram group, but it encouraged its members to explore ways of becoming more creative. The ‘workshop’ aspect saw us spend many evenings doing various improvisations and exercises, developing ways of creating our own theatre. I remember that one session was given over purely to feeling the strength of a gesture all the way through the arm to the very tip of the finger, every muscle tensed to create the desired effect and that is a technique that I use in my performance of A Christmas Carol today to bring strength and power to the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. I have much to thank DTW for, and it was lovely to wallow in a little nostalgia and think what those days have done for me.
The other subliminal message was less about the past but more about the future, for as we crossed the coast the flight map showed where various cities were in relation to us and for a fleeting moment the screen was filled with Portland and Boston – the journey taken by Charles Dickens and Kate Douglas Wiggin in 1868 and the subject of ‘A Child’s Journey With Dickens’ – which is to be my first performances of the 2022 tour. I took the hint and pulled out the script just to run over the lines to myself at 600 MPH. In the script Kate talks about the daily train to Portland dashing hither and thither at 12 miles an hour – such progress.
We arrived at Detroit in good time and the final hurdle of immigration was cleared easily. I retrieved my case, wheeled it down a corridor and rechecked it again, with no bother from any customs officers. Having once again divested myself of belt, watch jacket and shoes, I was allowed back into Detroit airport, having never actually left it, and I made my way to the gate where I would board a much smaller aeroplane to Kansas City, the first stop of the 2022 tour.
The second flight was completely full, so I had no luxury of an empty seat next to me, but once again I was sat over the hold hatch and therefore was again able to feel the relief that my bag was coming to KC too.
Kansas City is the venue that I have visited more often than any other, so the airport is a reassuringly familiar one, as yet untainted by the building programmes that render most airports indistinguishable from one another. The different terminals at Kansas City are a series of circular buildings looking rather like a moon base from a 1960s sci-fi show. I fetched my bags and boarded the shuttle bus to the car rental facility (I rather think I might have jumped the entire queue for the bus, just walking on when it arrived, but none of the other passengers said anything to me about it). The staff at the Enterprise Car Rental desk couldn’t have been more helpful, and actually walked me to my car, and introduced me to it – a very smart Toyota Venza hybrid SUV model. Having worked out how to switch the engine on and adjusted the mirrors I set off for the short drive to my Missouri home from home, the Hilton Garden Inn at Liberty.
It was about 6.30 by the time I got to my room, which to my English body was close to midnight, so I had an early supper at a nearby Olive Garden restaurant, before returning to my room for sleep
This year’s visit to Kansas City will be quite different from the past, but I will talk about that more tomorrow. For now, I have arrived, and the tour is about to begin.