Monday, February 27, 2017

Habit forming

We knew that the BBC's James Purnell once understudied Daniel Craig. It was in a National Youth Theatre production of Murder In The Cathedral in 1987-9, which toured London, Newcastle and Edinburgh, before ending up at the Moscow Arts Theatre. The future James Bond beat Purnell to the part of 4th Knight, but teenage Purnell covered the role whilst joining the chorus of Monks, who had much less to do.  Here's the recollection of fellow Monk, Mark Griffin.

"It was a fantastic trip ... but to be honest apart from scuttling about in a monk-like fashion, rising in mock amazement when Thomas a' Becket returned from France and shouting my one line 'The Door is Barred!' as dramatically as I could, there wasn't that much to do. The starring roles carried the action and we obediently provided the wallpaper.

"As the tour went on boredom, and inevitable subversion, grew and the monks started to make up fantasy back stories and sacred duties for their characters. Some of us looked after the bees, some illuminated manuscripts, some fermented mead, others tended the orchards and one of our number memorably became a sandal thief - this at least gave us something to improvise quietly in the back ground ('A good year for windfalls, brother Mark' or 'I'm afraid I'm clean out of left feet this week, brother Martin') whilst the turbulent priest's story was re-enacted out in front of us.

"By the time we had reached Stanislavski's hallowed theatre we'd realised that our large cassocks could hold almost anything and a new competition evolved for what could be hidden in the sleeves - this led to bags of chips, water pistols, bottles of vodka and one evening a kitten joining us on stage. We were untouchable and the joy was in getting away with it.

"The smooth and ever reliable James Purnell was amongst our number. James was renowned for being sensible - often refusing to join in with the squirting or animal kidnapping fun - and whilst the rest of us indulgently corpsed our way through the shows - he remained steadfastly focused on providing exemplary monastic support to the archbishop in a range of impressive genuflects, bows and head shakes, even cowering behind the nearest pillar as the Knights ran Thomas through with their long swords. At the end of the run James shook each of our hands in turn, joined the Labour Party and disappeared off to Oxford to start his PPE degree."

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