Experiencing Monty Python's Spamalot On And Off The Stage


Ten seconds in a musical is a long time. I’m not talking about the actual performance of an individual performer but all the components that go together to make that performance. The preparation of the cast, crew and musicians, from wardrobe dressing to rehearsal, every prop, player and performer plays a part in bringing a script to life.

All kitted out like a
Monty Python extra...
My invitation to join the cast of Monty Python’s Spamalot as Sir Not-Appearing at Cardiff New Theatre last week for all of ten seconds took some 90 minutes of rehearsal and preparation, and I was all but a small cog in the wheel of a big show.

Well not quite, I mustn't demean anything about Monty Python’s Spamalot not even my carefully crafted walk on. “It gets a big laugh!” encouraged Joe Pasquale when I interviewed him recently,” You've got to do it! You’ll love it!”

Stage manager Phil Sykes confirms this on the night as we sit in his office at The New Theatre, “It’s a small role but it gets a big laugh, so are you up for it?” I don’t hesitate in my response, “Definitely!”

So it’s off to wardrobe to get measured up for my knights’ costume. “Well its a choice of small medium or large,” wardrobe master Iwan Harries tells me as he helps me buckle in to my costume, “How on earth did real Knights cope,” I wonder  before catching a glimpse of myself in the mirror, I look like an extra from a Monty Python sketch in my knights costume and spectacles. Probably because I am.

Then it’s down three flights of stairs to the stage for my rehearsal, bumping into Joe Pasquale along on the way who greets me with a warm handshake. The cast are going through warm up movements while the band are tuning up at the back of the stage. To the side the technicians are running through their final preparations.  I sit in the sidelines for five minutes watching the production come together noticing Joe Pasquale and Todd Carty discussing a final adjustment to a comedy routine.

Phil Sykes reappears and leads me onto the stage, “This is Andy, from the South Wales…”

“...Argus,” I interject.

Wired for sound...
“That’s right; he will play Sir Not-Appearing tonight!” The cast give me a hearty cheer. I get a further greeting from Joe and Todd and then we go through my quick rehearsal which involves the Knight before me arriving on stage at very last minute following a quick change from another role that finishes seconds before. I must wait for him, but not miss my cue.

So the narrator’s announcement comes, “The wise Sir Bedevere was the first to join King Arthur’s knights, but other illustrious names were soon to follow: Sir Lancelot the Brave; Sir Galahad the Pure; and Sir Robin the Not-quite-so-brave-as-Sir-Lancelot who had nearly fought the Dragon of Agnnor, who had nearly stood up to the vicious Chicken of Bristol and who had personally wet himself at the Battle of Badon Hill; and the aptly named Sir Not-Appearing…”  I walk on to join the knights and they all look at me like I'm not supposed to be there. I'm not so I apologise and walk off.

“Perfect!” says Phil. So, I go back up to wardrobe to wait, sampling a piece of chocolate cake, kindly given to me by a member of the cast.

Ten minutes before curtain up I'm back in the wings. There’s one final touch as Jade the wigs mistress fits me up with a false moustache and beard. The show begins and I can hear the laughter of the audience as I see the cast members play their parts. Seeing the clockwork precision of each piece come together at the side of the stage is both exciting and fascinating.

Final resting place of
my costume...
Then, my moment approaches, Joe Pasquale in his full King Arthur regalia steps off stage and strolls over to me. “You alright?” he asks, “Yes thanks,” I reply. “Good,” he smiles, “watch your ‘tache doesn’t fall off!” I feel for my false moustache, fitted some 15 minutes before, its half hanging off!  As I smooth it back on another actor tells me how problematic they can be, but not to worry. Then Todd Carty, in his Patsy costume steps over “Just enjoy it,” he beams, before clopping back onto the stage.

“We’re up next,” says a fellow Knight and before I know it, I’m in the queue with the knight before me joining us at a furious pace just as the first knight marches on the stage. Then, as my name is spoken, I get a cheer from the audience as I walk on stage. It doesn’t last long, I meet the fixed glares of the cast and I apologise and make a quick exit just as I did in rehearsal.

I don’t remember it but I’m told it got a big laugh. I guess I got caught up in all the excitement. Andy Warhol was wrong when he said everyone’s famous for 15 minutes, I didn't get 15 seconds but I did get a big laugh and a personal experience of a lifetime. Appearing in Spamalot for ten seconds was indeed great fun just as much as I enjoyed watching it in the second half and all down to the marvelous cast and crew that made me feel so welcome.

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