A Christmas Carol, A Christmas Carol film, Brontes, Charles Dickens, Corronation Street, Dickens and Staplehurst. A Biogrpahy of a Rail Crash, Ebenezer Scrooge, Haworth, Hyde Festival Theatre, Leeds Library, Mark Llewellin, Roy Barraclough, Willow Wood Hospice, Wuthering Heights
I actually slept for a remarkably long time in my Leeds hotel room, not waking until 7.30, which is almost unheard of for me. I made some coffee and started my blog writing, before going to the restaurant for breakfast at around 8.30. It was a standard but extensive buffet, and I made full use of it.
I had said to Ian that I would go and collect my things from the library in the morning, so after breakfast I packed up my bag in readiness for check out, and then walked into the streets of Leeds, which were already packed and bustling. It really struck me both in Leeds and in York the day before, how busy the city centres, what Americans refer to as downtown, were compared to the relative ghost town of Minneapolis where I had been a few days before.
I arrived at the library shortly after 10 and initially thought I would need to make two journeys but having taken my roller bag back to the hotel the night before, I managed to balance everything (costumes, hat, scarf, cane, merchandise and stool) in one precariously balanced load. I said my goodbyes and tottered through the Christmas shoppers, through the railway station, where the progress of a man with two frock coats, a top hat and a stool was ignored in favour of a group of about ten men dressed in skintight lycra leopard-print all-in-ones, with skimpy grass skirts and curly black wigs. I returned to the car, got all of my things loaded and then went back to the hotel to plan my day. It was raining hard now, very hard (hence my detour through the station concourse). My evening show was to be near Manchester, which was not a long drive, so I had to find something to fill my day. I had originally thought about driving to Haworth, the home of the Bronte sisters, but the weather didn’t seem to be in favour of that. However, a drive out to the moors may be fun, so I decided to continue with that plan.
I finished packing and checked out and made a wet dash for the car. I set the satnav for the Bronte Parsonage Museum and set bout through the wet, glistening streets of Leeds. The route took me to Bradford and from there into the countryside, and as I left the urban sprawl behind me, so the clouds cleared, and the sun began to shine. I drove into the little village and up the steep hill where there was a car cark for the museum, but it was full, so I drove on and out into the countryside. I found a little parking place next to some paths and made my way up onto the moor. It was not wild nor windy, but the views across the valley were stunning, and I just continued to walk, further up, taking this path, then another. On my side of the slope there was heather and wild bilberry bushes, on the opposite side was typical Yorkshire dry-stone walls separating the fields. It was truly idyllic and energising, and I loved every minute.
After a while I began to make my way back down the hill and returned to the car, I drove back into the village (the museum car park was still full, and I didn’t feel I needed to visit anyway, for I had experienced what I had come for). At the bottom of the village was a little railway station, and the crowds gathering suggested that a train was due, and on close investigation I discovered that it was a heritage steam railway. I didn’t want to take a trip but having seen the static locomotives in York the day before it would be nice to see one in full steam, panting, puffing and doing what it was built to do. There was a little footbridge over the track and as the train passed underneath me, I was engulfed in clouds of damp, musty steam. I hurried down to the platform where families, and camera-toting gentlemen wearing anoraks (I was obviously wearing a high-tec walking jacket and was toting a Samsung phone), were climbing aboard. I stood close to the locomotive and as the whistle blew and the green flag was waved, the driver opened the regulator valve and the whole animal let out a deep guttural CHUG, and slowly the train left the station.
Before I left, I checked the little gift shop and made a note to send details of my book to them, too! There was a small supermarket across the street, so I bought myself a picnic lunch and drove up into the hills, found a layby with a view and listened to the qualifying session from the Grand Prix in Abu Dhabi.
By now the afternoon was moving on, so I set the satnav for the Hyde Festival Theatre and heading off towards the urban sprawl of Manchester. It was around 4pm when I arrived in Hyde, and I was not due at the theatre until 6, so I found a local coffee shop and finished the previous day’s blog post, before going back to the car. I decided that it was not worth waiting any longer, so drove to the theatre where my ring at the door was instantly answered by Dan, the theatre’s manager. Through the small foyer and box office area and there I was in a beautiful auditorium, complete with what had once been a very grand circle, with white plaster mouldings on a grey background. The theatre had been built as a cinema in the early 20th Century, since when it has undergone various periods of success as a theatre, most recently being run and promoted by an ambitious team who are desperate to make it a thriving part of the community once more. As well as the theatre staff I was also greeted by Mark Llewellin, the gentleman who had booked me for the evening. I had first met Mark and his partner Roy many years before on a cruise ship, and they had enjoyed my performance of A Christmas Carol back then. Now Mark is responsible for fundraising at a local hospice and had contacted me to perform on their behalf.
Mark and Roy, who died at the hospice 5 years ago, had both had long careers in theatre. Roy Barraclough had been a very popular television actor, appearing for many years in Coronation Street and also creating the comedy duo of Cissy and Ada alongside Les Dawson, but his career stretched much further than television and he was an extremely accomplished stage actor as well. Mark himself has a long history or production, direction and performance in all aspects of the industry, but most of all in Pantomime. Now he tours and talks about many aspects of his life and career – his contact book is indeed veritable who’s who of the world of entertainment.
Almost as soon as I arrived the theatre machine went into overdrive. I had sent my script to Mark who had forwarded it to the tech team, so lighting cues and sound effects were all ready to go. They even asked me if I wanted haze, to create the foggy streets of a London. Yes, please! We did a microphone check, using one of those units that hook over the ears, and which inevitably fall off me, and all was well, although in that lovely auditorium I doubted I would really need one. I went up to the dressing room and hung up my costumes, before going through the extra act two lines again. Mark introduced me to his fundraising team, and it seemed certain that we were going to have a wonderful evening.
The show was due to go up at 7.30, so Mark and I went down to the wings at around 7.20, and we could hear the audience gathering in the auditorium. I paced back and forward behind the tabs, like a caged animal, until it was time to begin. Mark took the stage and said a few words about the hospice, A Christmas Carol and me, and then it was time to begin. The sound effect played, and I walked on, from stage left to stage right and stood over Jacob Marley’s grave. On the third ring of the bell, I gave the ‘harrumph’ sound and instantly knew that the microphone wasn’t working. I hadn’t touched it since the check, unless a lead or something had come loose when I got into costume, but for whatever reason there was no microphone. I simply raised my volume slightly and projected to the very back of the room (advice that Charles Dickens had given to his son, Henry when he was due to give a speech). I didn’t have the whole stage to play with as a set for the forthcoming pantomime was being built, so I only had quite a narrow strip of stage in front of the main curtains, but I had plenty of width to use.
The audience were great and all of the sound and lighting cues (the first venue to provide lighting this year) worked superbly. I left the stage at the interval to great applause and ran up the stairs to the dressing room, where I changed shirts. Dan came up to see what had happened to the microphone, although he said that he had heard all of my lines quite clearly. He replaced the batteries, checked all of the connections and we were good to go again.
Act two was as even more fun than the first and the audience joined in enthusiastically when encouraged to do so and giggled loudly as Mrs C panicked about her Christmas Pudding, this mirth was counterbalanced by the shocked silence that greeted Scrooge’s visit to the Cratchit’s home in deep mourning. At the end of the show the audience started to stand during their applause before I had even left the stage, and the response was amazing.
I hadn’t planned to sell my merchandise at Hyde, rather encouraging the audience to spend their money on the fundraising raffle to which I donated one of my DVDs, but the news that such a product existed encouraged people to ask if there were more available, and Mark said I should go to the foyer and flog a few, which I did. One lady gushed to me about much she had enjoyed the show, going on to say ‘I saw someone else from the family do a show like this a few years ago!’
‘Oh,’ I replied, ‘who was that?’
‘I don’t remember, but he said that he went to America a lot’
‘Well, that SOUNDS like me! I go to America, I am going next week.’
‘It was at Stockport Plaza’
‘Yes! That was me!’
‘Oh, goodness. I was going to say that you are much better than he was!’
I am glad that it was that way round!
Once the audience had left and I had changed, Mark and I joined the theatre team in the bar and wound down with a drink and the sharing of many theatrical anecdotes. Finally, it was time to drive away, and I made my way back to Mark’s house, for he had kindly offered me hospitality. I had some cheese and a cup of tea, as we chatted about theatre and variety, but soon I began to feel the fatigues of the day catching up with me, and having said goodnight, availed myself of a spacious spare room. Another successful day in the winter of ’22
The Hyde show was to raise money for the Willow Wood Hospice, which like all others does sterling work. If you would like to donate to this amazing cause, please follow this link: