FOR one night only. For one scene only. For one line only. Actually, scratch that, for one word only. That, in a (coco)nutshell, was the offer that popped up in my email feed a couple of weeks ago.
The cameo, to appear as Sir Not Appearing in Monty Python’s Spamalot. Hardly an adventure to turn down.
After all, I’d be in good company. Former Doctor Who Sylvester McCoy and Dancing On Ice favourite Matt Evers have both donned the costume of the knight who resembles an incongruous Don Quixote, as have Keith Lemon and ex-EastEnder Larry Lamb.
‘Meet company manager Phil Sykes at the stage door at 4.30pm’, stated the email confirming my ‘starring role.’ A good omen if ever there was one - Erik Sykes being one of my comedy heroes. Wonder if they’re related?
‘Be at The Playhouse at 4.30pm for wardrobe and to rehearse after the sound check at 5.45pm,’ the missive instructed, finishing with ‘you will need to bring black boots with you.’
So, black books in hand, I’m ready for my transformation. They’re not the right period I admit, but then Slaters tend not to do a line in medieval calfskin footwear.
In the bowels of backstage, Iwan Harries, the wardrobe master, has the costume ready and waiting. Two pairs of silver grey leggings - one larger, one small. He won’t say which he’s decided is the best fit for me. His expert eye making a instant decision.
Then there’s the tunic, a zip-up affair which will be covered by a breastplate, which he straps into place. There’s a pair of pantaloons too, to go over the leggings and more armour, this time to protect my upper body and wrists.
Finally a hat, in the shape of a flying saucer, is perched on my head. One size fits all.
Matthew Dale who has given up the role for the night apparently dresses himself in seconds, but then he’s had a bit more practice. Thankfully, he’s also going to be on hand in the wings to give me a gentle nudge, or shove, should I miss my cue.
My ‘co-stars’ for the big moment are Grange Hill legend Todd Carty - who of my generation did not watch him as a kid and dream of being an actor - and squeaky voiced funny-man Joe Pasquale.
They’re on stage with resident director Simon Greiff and the rest of the company. Warmed up and with microphones checked, it’s time for Joe, Todd and the Knights - Will Hawksworth, Richard Meek, Jamie Tyler and Josh Wilmott - to walk me through my appearance.
The cue line is ‘... aptly named Sir Not Appearing’.
“Project luv...” advises Joe, with a laugh as we wait in the wings, while the Knights take it in turn to say Break A Leg. Todd smiles, “You’ll be great”.
A couple of rehearsals later and that’s it, and after an impromptu rendition of Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life, we’re on a break. Next time, in about an hour and a half it will be for real.
Not that it’s my first time on The Playhouse stage; that was in a Chisinau National Opera production of Cavalleria Rusticana/Pagliacci back in 2005.
Then I had to learn to juggle. After a six-hour shift with Stanca, the famous Russian clown, the tendons in my wrists had seized and I spent the whole appearance trying to not lose control of the very heavy balls we had to juggle as we circled one of the world’s top opera stars.
I had visions of an uncontrolled ball escaping my grip, landing on her head and knocking her out mid-aria.
At least Sir Not Appearing is a less demanding role.
The scene really is simple, as the Knights of the Round Table are introduced one by one, a surplus Knight wanders into the action... apologises... and leaves. My line: “Sorry!”
It’s a tiny, but pivotal role, I assure myself as the moment approaches. What on Earth possessed me to accept this offer in the first place - the biggest theatre auditorium in Europe 3000-odd seats are on the other side of that curtain.
For those unfamiliar with the piece, Monty Python’s Spamalot is ‘lovingly ripped off from the classic film comedy Monty Python and the Holy Grail’.
With book by Eric Idle and score by Idle and John Du Prez, Spamalot tells ‘the legendary tale of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table and features a bevy (or possibly a brace) of beautiful show girls, witch burnings (cancelled due to health and safety) not to mention cows, killer rabbits and French people.’
Songs to get the audience’s feet tapping include He Is Not Dead Yet, Knights of the Round Table, Find Your Grail, and, of course, the Nation’s Favourite Comedy Song, Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life.
Suddenly it’s time. One second it’s backstage selfies with Todd and Joe, the next they’re on stage and the cue line is ringing in my ears.
“Go now,” says Matthew and I do, march on, take my position. The Knights look at me. I look at them and utter the immortal ‘Sorry!’. Then exit stage right.
It’s over in a flash. Company manager Phil, who has looked after me throughout is waiting in the wings. “That was great,” he says. “You even got a cheer. That doesn’t always happen”.
Monty Python’s Spamalot, The Playhouse, Greenside Place, until Saturday, 7.30pm (matinee 2.30pm), £12.90-£46.40, 0844-871 7615