A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens, Dickens and Staplehurst. A Biogrpahy of a Rail Crash, Ebenezer Scrooge, Liverpool, St George's Hall, The Shankly Hotel
After a few days at home, during which the aftermath of my dose of Covid continued to drain me of energy, as well as lingering in the form of a heavy cold and nasty cough, it was all too soon time to get on the road again for the final UK leg of my 2022 A Christmas Carol tour. The time at home had been lovely, even though Liz and one of our daughters were also down with particularly heavy colds, but I had time to hang Christmas lights on the outside of the house, as well as on the tree, ready for us all to decorate when next I am at home.
On Thursday morning I packed the car with the props and costumes that I would need for three days in the North East and set off at around 11.am. My destination was the city centre of Liverpool and three performances at what Charles Dickens called ‘The most perfect hall in the world’ – the gilded concert room at St George’s Hall.
My drive to Liverpool was an easy one, and the landscape was beautiful with the light dusting of icy snow on the fields glittering in the bright winter sunshine. Occasionally herds of sheep appeared, slightly cream-coloured against the pure white behind them. I arrived at around 2.30, and because the area around St George’s Hall is taken over by a huge Christmas fair, I had to ring ahead to be allowed access through a security barrier, so that I could get as close as possible to unload my car. The staff at the hall brought out a small trolley/cage, and we piled everything into it and rolled it up to door. Unfortunately, the journey was across cobbles and various articles fell off along the way, including one of my costumes which got caught beneath the trolley’s wheels and ended up very muddy and dusty.
Non of ‘my’ team where at the hall yet, so I placed all of the furniture on the stage, and hung my one pristine and one soiled costume in my dressing room, and then went to check in at my hotel – The Shankly, just a few minutes walk away. I had an hour or so in my room, during which time I made a restorative cup of Lemsip, and tried to relax as much as I could, for I really wasn’t feeling too great.
At around 4.30 I wrapped up against the cold winter’s night and walked back to St George’s Hall where the door was locked. I was joined on the pavement by a young man carrying a camera bag and tripod, and I guessed that this was Adam, who had been booked to make a short video promotional film of my show. Eventually, after much bell ringing and a couple of phone calls, we were let into the huge foyer. Lynne Hamilton, the producer and events manager who puts on my Liverpool shows was there and we hugged warmly. Lynne and I have been working together for many years and it was great to see her again. Of course she was worried about my state of health, both from a personal and professional viewpoint. I went up to the main hall where my sound engineer Taz was setting up. We have worked together before, and immediately he had some ideas about the show – introducing a few echoes here and there as ghosts came and went. For my part, I wanted to to record a new voiceover for the start of the second act, which up to now has opened with me reprising the lines of Jacob Marley -‘You will be haunted by three spirits. Expect the first tonight when the bell tolls one. Expect the second on the next night, at the same hour…..’ and then I would commence snoring, as if Scrooge had been asleep throughout the interval. Rather than me actually speaking those lines, it seemed better to have them recorded, so I set my laptop and microphone up on the stage, and after three takes had what I wanted. Taz and I did a sound check, and it was apparent that while my voice was quite strong, it was full of cold, so not as clear and pure as usual. There was nothing that could be done to change that, I just had to ensure that my performance was as good as I could make it.
Meanwhile, Adam was scouting out the venue to see how best we could film some parts of the show for his promo video. I got into costume, and performed various scenes, while he followed me around with his gimble-mounted camera. He was very pleased with the results, and was worried that it was going to be very difficult to edit all of the material down. For me, it was time to hibernate for a while and relax. I drank a lot of water, popped a few Fisherman’s Friends, and did as little as possible. Downstairs the audience were beginning to arrive, while I ran through a few lines – actually some new lines. Maybe a show when I was not feeling great was not the perfect time to introduce a change to the script, but a thought had come to me in America and I was keen to try it out. As Scrooge’s time with the Ghost of Christmas Past comes to an end he berates her for ‘torturing him’ and commands that she ‘remove him from this place’ and the spirit reminds him that ‘I told you that these are the shadows of things that have been. That they are what they are, do not blame me!’ It felt important that he is reminded of that fact, so this year’s new addition is that little exchange.
The show was due to start at 7.30, but there was a slightly odd precursor to the performance. As part of Adam’s filming he wanted to get some shots of a Liverpool standing ovation from my perspective, that is from the stage. So when all of the audience were gathered, Lynne told them she needed them to stand and cheer and clap, as if it were the end of the show. I watched on a small TV monitor from the wings as the crowd went crazy. Hands in the air, stamping of feet, whooping, shouting, cries of sheer delight and adulation filled the old hall – that has to be one of the best standing ovations that I have ever received, and I wasn’t even there to bow. Adam, looking very self conscious, recorded the whole thing.
When everyone had calmed down again, the choir, who had been entertaining the audience as they arrived in the lobby below, took to the stage and, using the acoustic of the Concert Room as an extra member, performed three exquisite pieces, all rapturously received.
And at last it was my turn. The danger is, when feeling below par, that I try too hard, and over-dramatise and over-emphasise everything, so I made sure I gave a well-paced, but not too theatrical performance. My voice wasn’t great, but my characters, movements and general stage presence was pretty good, and the audience seemed engaged with the unfolding story. My new line fitted in perfectly (although in my concentration on slipping it in, I did mess up one of the proceeding lines, but that passed by in a moment.) The round of applause at the interval was loud and long, and I could relax into the second half in the knowledge that all was OK.
The second act has all of the tom-foolery in it – The Cratchit’s at dinner, Topper, Old Joe and the like, and the atmosphere in the Hall became more and more joyful as we headed to the show’s conclusion, and sure enough, when I left the stage, the ovation was every bit as energetic and loud as the pretend one of a couple of hours before. I took my bows to each quarter and as always thought of my great great grandfather doing the same when he had stood on the same boards. It is always a very memorable and emotional time in Liverpool.
I quickly changed and went to the lobby where there was a line of people clutching copies of Dickens and Staplehurst and my DVDs. We chatted, and I signed until the foyer was empty, and then went upstairs to change once more, and headed back to my hotel, where the bar and restaurant was closed for the night. So, once again, Uber Eats got my custom and at just after 11 I had a pizza in my room.
It had been a successful day, despite my cold and cough, and the positivity of a St George’s crowd gave me the confidence to face the rest of the tour with relish.