And now for something completely different. . . Michael Siberry as King Arthur in the first national company of the Tony Award-winning musical Monty Python’s Spamalot.
Siberry, considered one of England’s finest Shakespearean actors, has distinguished himself in this country as the title characters in The Life and Times of Nicholas Nickleby and Uncle Vanya, as James Morrell in Candida, Gratiano in The Merchant of Venice (starring Dustin Hoffman), Touchstone in As You Like It, Shakespeare in The Frogs and as Captain von Trapp opposite Rebecca Luker in the 1998 revival of The Sound of Music. Urbane and appealing, he would likely be a wonderful King Arthur in Camelot. But a quirky, Pythonian Arthur who bangs together coconuts and calls it a horse?
“Yes, it’s a departure from straight theatre,” he says, laughing, “but my generation grew up with Monty Python. My friends and I would be at school and copy and mimic what we saw on television the night before. So it’s great fun to actually be doing this material now. It’s a great release. There are no boundaries in Monty Python, which is fantastic. So often in straight theatre, whether it be Shakespeare or a conventional piece of musical theatre, you have to take it all so seriously. In this form you can step out of that convention. Almost anything goes. The Monty Python world has its own kind of logic. It’s extreme and becomes surreal, but the humor has a lot of basis in reality. It’s a pretty absurd take on the world we live in, but it has a thread of truth running all the way through it. It takes a look at what’s real and makes it funny and ridiculous.”
Siberry is speaking from New York at the start of the third week of rehearsals, prior to the launch of the Spamalot tour in March in Boston. The show, with a book by Eric Idle, an original member of Monty Python, and music and lyrics by Idle and John du Prez, is “lovingly ripped off from the classic film comedy 'Monty Python and the Holy Grail,'” proclaims the Spamalot website. In addition to winning the 2005 Tony Award for Best Musical, Spamalot also earned a Best Director Tony for Mike Nichols. Nichols and Idle will work closely with the cast once the company moves to Boston; Peter Lawrence, the show’s associate director, is responsible for putting Spamalot on its feet. “There’s a lot of freedom for reinterpretation,” says Siberry. “There’s no pressure for me to reproduce someone else’s performance. They see what I’m doing and what the other actors are doing, and as long as it’s in the right direction, they’re very free with it. Eric has written some new bits, just changing things here and there. That’s the nature of the comedy; it’s very much evolving. If it works it works, and if it doesn’t, you do something else. And in this show in particular, you really learn what’s working when you’re performing in front of an audience. This is really a collaborative experience between the performers and the actors.”
Siberry, a native of Tasmania, Australia, is one of those fortunate actors who find steady work in the theatre. “There’s not a lot you can do about your career,” he says. “You just take what comes, and I seem to be in the theatre all the time. It’s been fairly solid for a while. I’ve toured a lot, and have been back and forth between England and America. The range of work that I’ve been doing is quite considerable and stimulating. And I can pay the bills.”