Kage Baker adored the Fezziwig’s area. It is where, all day, the devotees of Terpsichore enact the dance party from A Christmas Carol. There is a groaning board (with very fine faux cakes on it, some of them produced by our Prop Department more than 25 years ago …) and swags of holly. Mr. and Mrs. Fezziwig preside in perpetual jollity, their innumerable daughters flit about breaking hearts, the staff of Fezziwig’s Warehouse dance their brains out, and the redoubtable and splendid band Bangers and Mash plays music.
All day. And half the night. It’s what they do in Fezziwig’s. To take breaks at Fezziwig’s, they either dance more slowly or play vigorous parlour games. You need the stamina of a cyborg to be a Fezziwigger. And the most enchanting part of all is that their greatest desire is to lure other people into the dance. They will invite and teach anyone, and a whirl around the floor with one of their people is better than any amusement park ride in the world.
There are also chairs from which to sit and watch, if you are past dancing. Or to sit poised on, looking hopeful, if you are just dying to be asked to dance. Kage liked to just sit and watch the younger dancers play, but – like any good old lady – she was always willing to hold other people’s hat, bonnets, gloves, cloaks, jackets, swords and reticules so they could dance. So was I. Mrs. Bombay and Mrs. Drumm: we would sit there, swathed in yards of wool and silk and velvet, juggling small bags and plumes and toys back and forth, alternately quarreling like a pair of old ravens and pointing out to one another how perfectly lovely the children looked out on the floor.
This is one of the privileges and duties of old ladies at dance parties. You can sit down, hold the coats, and talk about the dancers. You can snark back and forth amusingly with your housekeeper, who remembers when you were both young and got into trouble at dance parties. You can peer through the rows of Sir Roger de Coverly sets or the racing rings of waltzers, commenting to one another about the gowns and grace and stamina of various dancers.
And since between the two of you, your skirts cover 6 chairs, you can save seats, too!
Occasionally some dutiful young man would come up and invite me to dance. I would decline politely, saying “I no longer dance, you see.” To which my housekeeper, Mrs. Drumm, would add cheerfully, “Too fat now, the both of us! Go ask that pretty girl in the blue sash, she’s just about bouncin’ out of her chair”, in a broad Lancastershire accent. And in a moment another blushing couple would be out on the dance floor.
“Drumm, you go too far,” I would say reprovingly.
“Not so far as you with that rum cake, Missus,” Drumm would reply (accurately, too).
And we’d both cackle like loons, and then exclaim that my daughter Caroline was being swung about so vigourously by her partner that she was about to go head over heels. Her husband Mike (who plays her suitor as a different dubious character every year) would go by stomping his great boots and somehow not trampling her skirts. We would gasp and hold our breath, waiting for the inevitable disaster, but somehow Caroline was a reed in his arms and always emerged unscathed.
However, Miss Neassa, who plays my sister, regularly lost her cap in Sir Roger de Coverly; I remember it sailing off like a gaudy butterfly and being snatched up by one of Caroline’s boys: Patrick then continued to jig his way through the set, waving Neassa’s cap like a Morris Man’s handkerchief.
Or Meagan, who plays my youngest daughter Kitty, would come dashing back briefly to deposit her doll with us before rushing back in. This year, a ladylike 14, she danced the Last Waltz of the Evening for the first time. Kage would have been so pleased …
All around the floor the dancers move – some comic, some heartbreakingly beautiful, some customers, some performers: out there under the lights and the surging music, it doesn’t matter. They are, as Mr. Dickens says in A Christmas Carol: ” … people who were not to be trifled with; people who would dance, and had no notion of walking.”
It is the most glorious sight at the Fair. And Kage loved it with all her heart.
When the Last Waltz is over, every night, we all rush out on to the dance floor and sing The Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah. In four parts. It is – transcendent. It is like being a piece in a stained glass window. Kage sang alto and I sing soprano, and we always stood side by side so we could hear one another do the harmonies: that was the best of all.
I haven’t made it through this yet, this year. I break down midway through, and just stand there weeping and smiling. No one has minded; they all know what is wrong with me, and I’m not the only one who cries, anyway. But I will be there every night, and I will hold cloaks and bonnets, and watch the dancers, and try to sing Hallelujah! with the rest.
Some night I’ll manage it, too.
Tomorrow: more scenes from Dickens Fair.