I arrived back home from Minneapolis on Tuesday morning and on Thursday morning, after just one full day at home, it was time to set off on my travels once more. My first UK venue of the season was to be at The Lit and Phil society in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, a drive of about 4 1/2 hours. When I came to load, I had to think carefully about what I needed for my shows, as I have become used to turning up to a venue in America and having the set all laid out for me. As I was about to drive away, I took one final look at the load and was worried that I didn’t seem to have enough equipment and realised that I had omitted to put the hat rack in, so I went back to the house and fetched it. Hmmm, it still didn’t look right, so I did a mental skim through the script, and discovered that I hadn’t put the little table in either. Back to the prop store to liberate the table and at last I was on my way.
The weather on Wednesday was foul and the whole drive was carried out in heavy heavy rain, with patches of the road flooded with standing water. To pass the time I discovered a new 8-part podcast about a particular scandal in Formula One racing, dating back to 2007, when one team illegally obtained a complete dossier about a competitor’s car design. The scandal only came to light because the designer of the team with the stollen information sent his wife to a high street copy-shop where she asked them to photocopy the entire 780 pages of information. Unfortunately for her, and the designer, the man who ran the copy shop happened to be a fan of the aggrieved team and emailed them, setting in place the course of events that became known, unimaginatively, as ‘Spygate’.
Newcastle is in the far Northeast of England, so my journey took me through the whole range of countryside that the country has to offer. Earlier in the week my brother and I were discussing the question ‘where does the north begin?’ For my part I always think that when I get to Derby I am in the north of England.
I arrived at my hotel, the Sleeperz at 3.30, which gave to me 90 minutes to relax before I needed to be at the venue, the Literary and Philosophical Society, a very fine and historic library in the heart of the city. I have been performing for the Lit and Phil for the last 5 years, or so, and the routine is a familiar one. The only parking for the hotel is on the street, but fortunately the library itself is only a few doors away, so I did not have to move the car when it was time to leave. I left my room to get into the lift and for a moment forgot that I was back in the UK, rather than in America, for I automatically hit ‘1’ and was surprised when the doors opened into a corridor of rooms – in England the bottom floor, or lobby. level is called the Ground Floor, whereas the 1st floor, is actually the 2nd. In America, of course, the ground floor is the first, and the 2nd is the 2nd. I don’t know why I should have been confused
I walked to the car, unlocked the boot and started to unload the props in the pouring rain and. After three or four trips everything was inside. I was greeted by a poster for my show with the very happy tidings ‘SOLD OUT’ stuck across it.
I laid out my set on the floor, there not being a stage, and as is tradition we played around with various combinations of overhead florescent tubes and standard lamps to create some sort of theatrical atmosphere. The room at The Lit and Phil is not a particularly atmospheric one, but the shows here have always worked very well there, with the enthusiastic Newcastle audience bringing it to life.
When everything was set, and before the audience arrived, I popped to the loo, in which there was a notice pinned to the wall: ‘Please do NOT empty the basin when the urinal is flushing. Thank you.’ Goodness, what would happen? The sign had the sort of effect on me that a large red button bearing the legend ‘UNDER NO CIRCUSMTANCES PRESS THIS BUTTON’ You just have to, don’t you? There is an inner curiosity to do the complete opposite, despite the warnings. Fortunately, for the continued stability of the Lit & Phil building, I managed to conquer my rebellious nature and did NOT empty the basin while the urinal was flushing.
I settled myself into my dressing room, actually a large meeting room with a large table, and spent some time going over the extra lines for the 2-act version of A Christmas Carol which I will be performing later in the week. There are not too many additions, but Marley gets a little extra time to tell us that he only has little time and cannot stay, rest or linger. When Scrooge first stands in the snow with the Ghost of Christmas Past, he sees his school friends making their way home and he recognises them all, feeling strangely moved to see and hear them wish each other ‘Merry Christmas!’ There is an extra scene at the school, in which Scrooge’s little sister bounds in, and there are a few extra lines at the start of the second act, when Scrooge wakes expecting to see the second spirit. The wisdom of learning lines that I was not about to use may be debatable, but I was confident that I would be able to perform the very familiar 1 act version without a problem. I also attached black Velcro strips to my frock coat, as I did last year, so that I could create a fully black creature, with no gold waistcoat showing, when the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come makes his first appearance.
I could hear the audience arriving and just before 7pm there was a knock on the door, and it was time to make my way to the back of the room. As I mentioned earlier, the Lit and Phil audiences are always excellent, and this year was no exception. The show went really well, with lots of reaction, leading to a very noisy standing ovation at the end. I took my bows and then lingered in the large room through which the audience exited to chat and answer questions. I had copies of ‘Dickens and Staplehurst’ as well as the DVD version of ‘A Christmas Carol’, and both sold well. It was lovely to discover that there were audience members who had seen me perform at The Word on South Tyneside (the same has been the case the other way round), meaning that although geographically the venues are fairly close, they actually support each other.
When the audience had left I changed and loaded up the car (it was still raining hard), and strolled back to my hotel, where I ordered my supper from a local Chinese restaurant and twenty minutes later an Uber Eats courier delivered it to me. I ate in my room and then after a long, but successful, day went to sleep knowing that I had a quite relaxing day ahead of me on Friday.