A Christmas Carol, Byers'Choice, Charles Dickens, Ebenezer Scrooge, Jacob Marley, Joseph Ambler Inn
Following my very satisfying success of Friday evening, I slept particularly badly that night, waking up with a severe headache and not being able to shift it. Unfortunately my bottle of pain relief pills were still in the car, and at about 4am I cold bear it no longer, so got up, threw some clothes on and went out into the cold early morning to fetch them. Sleep still didn’t come, as I tossed and turned in bed, knowing that this wouldn’t be such an easy day ahead. At around 7.30 Bob Byers sent me a message, checking how I was feeling and was I ready for another show? My answer was ‘I’d better be!’, although I was not altogether convinced at that point
Breakfast at The Inn was not served until 8, and as I had to be on the road at around 8.30 I went downstairs as early as I could and enjoyed a simple breakfast of fruits and pastries, before returning to my room to pack my cases and set off back to Byers’ Choice in Pennsylvania. The journey was about two and a half hours, and I couldn’t shift the headache throughout the whole trip, this being slightly scary for me, as I am not normally prone to headaches. As I got nearer to Philadelphia the traffic started to build up, and the final hour of the journey seemed to last forever. I finally pulled into the Byers’ Choice parking lot at around 11.30, at the same time as the first audience members were arriving too, although the show was not due to start until 1. I went into the offices and the first person I saw was Bob, who very genuinely asked how I was doing, it was the inquiry of a concerned friend, not of a business owner who had hundreds of people gathering to see a show. Bob and Pam have been so kind and supportive of me over the past week, and haven’t put any pressure on me to perform at all, that it made me all the more determined to do a good job for them now. I was feeling better for being there, and the headache, although still present, had diminished slightly.
I walked into the huge performance space and met up with Bob’s brother Jeff who also asked about my wellbeing, and if there was anything they could do for me, to make things more comfortable. Actually, between Bob and Jeff (and I believe it was Jeff’s suggestion), the decision had been made to cancel the second performance of the day, to give me an easier time. The hope was that some evening attendees may switch their tickets to one of the matinees instead, and certainly numbers had spiked over the previous two days, with both audiences swelling to around 650. I set the stage as I wanted it, and with David, our technical wizard, who knows the show better than I do, went through the various lighting and sound cues that we have developed over the years
When everything was ready, and with the audience waiting at the doors, I made my way to the company’s large conference room, which becomes my dressing/green room during my stay and I just kept myself to myself, quietly. At 12.30 I got into costume and at 12.55 went to the hall, where it looked as if a completely full house awaited me, in fact the Byers’ Choice staff were busily fetching more chairs, as people continued to arrive. Finally Bob gave the thumbs up that we were ready to go, and we made our way backstage (or into the shipping department of the business on any other day). The audience had been entertained by some beautiful carol signing by the choir from one of the local high schools. and as they came off stage Bob and I thanked them for performing so well.
And now it was my turn. Bob welcomed the audience, explained briefly about the circumstances of the last week and then introduced A Christmas Carol. Up onto the stage, over to Marley’s grave, a glance down, a ‘hurrumph!’ and then back to centre stage to begin the show. It was very similar to the night before, with a strong performance, slightly tarnished by the odd frailties of my voice. I purposefully gave Marley the rather breathless, weak voice that had been forced upon me at Lewes, and it was effective again. As the story unfolded, so I found myself needing to take little coughs here and there again, but most of the time I was able to give it large – and do my thing to the best of my abilities, to the great appreciation of the large crowd.
After the applause had died down and the people had sat down, Bob came up onto the stage to host another Q&A session. He began by mentioning that I was making a huge personal sacrifice to be here on stage, for at that very moment England were playing France in the Quarter Final of the World Cup. He went on to give me the tidings that France were currently 1-0 up. Bob read out questions which had been submitted by the audience as they arrived, most of which, on this occasion, were about Charles Dickens and his writing of A Christmas Carol, which was an interesting direction to go in. As I was answering the questions I realised that I had lost a button from my waistcoat, and took the opportunity of looking for it, so that I wouldn’t tread on it, as I paced around the floor.
When I finished the final question I took yet more bows and returned to the conference room to change. After a while I went back to the hall, which was empty now, and continued the search for my button, which I eventually found at centre stage right, un-trodden on and intact.
I replaced everything on the set, ready for the next day’s show, and then gathered my bag and prepared to leave. This was a strange moment, for usually I am just resting between shows, but as I walked to my car so were many audience members, and I was rewarded by lots of shouts of ‘great show!’ and the like. I left a happy man.
My hotel for the Byers’ Choice shows is The Joseph Ambler Inn, just a 15 minute drive, and in no time I was in my comfortable room, switching the TV on to see what was happening in the football. The screen flickered on just as England’s skipper, Harry Kane was standing over the ball, preparing to take a penalty kick to draw England level with France. There was a sense of inevitability about the scene, for England’s hopes over many years have been dashed by missed penalty kicks, and sure enough the ball went soaring over the goal and into the crowd behind.
Bob and Pam had kindly invited me out for an early supper, with their son George and his girlfriend Maura who is going to be working alongside Bob and Pam in preparing next year’s tour. We chatted about the parts of this year’s trip that had gone ahead, and what had been successful or otherwise, but mainly our thoughts turned to 2023 and the thirtieth anniversary tour, and what we could do to make it a real celebration of my performances of A Christmas Carol. We talked of merchandising, sponsorship ideas, increased media coverage, and the geographical nature of the tour itself. Although we are twelve months away, the time will fly and we need to start putting plans into place now.
We finished up our dinners, and Pam pointed out to Bob that I needed rest, and she was right. There would have been no way that I could have done a second show that day, and I was grateful that they had recognised the fact in time to cancel the evening performance.
I went back tom The Joseph Ambler Inn, and watched something on television, I don’t even remember what, and fell asleep quickly. On Sunday I have one more matinee to perform, and then I will drive directly to Newark airport and fly home, back to Liz and the girls.