Martin Dimery’s Highlights:

A year of comedy highlights with Jo Brand, Rich Hall and Phill Jupitus headlining.

Mr. Jupitus’s  lost earring caused me some inconvenience the following day until he phoned to admit it had turned up in his wash bag. It’s the little things one remembers.

It was also the first opera production at Cooper Hall, directed by our now patron Morag McLaren. A fully professional cast and orchestra were fitted into Cooper Hall with the help of a lean-to shed annex to present a brilliant run of Benjamin Britten’s “The Turn of the Screw“, to mark his centenary.

Turn of the Screw, Cooper Hall

Never did I imagine that a year down the line from our first Frome Festival in 2012, we’d be presenting our own in-house opera production: Benjamin Britten’s Turn of the Screw, in collaboration with Bath Philharmonia.  I look back now, and realise it was an unbelievably ambitious adventure to embark on.

We had to build an awning type extension onto the garden side of the hall to house the 13-piece orchestra.  Our builder Roy Pike was put under pressure yet again to get that contraption up and running in time for rehearsals.  We had to sell a car to help finance it. 

But I was determined to make it happen, fired by Jason’s ebullience, Martin Dimery’s encouragement, and Fay’s ability to turn her hand to anything, from admin, marketing, production and culinary skills.  I knew I could cast the opera with young professional singers I’d been working with.  They were soon lined up to get their teeth into the roles of what I consider to be one of the most exquisite, eerie, exciting and ambiguous operas in the canon.

Here, in the small scale, intimate safety net of Cooper Hall the singers could test the ground, and expand their vocal and dramatic skills, whilst gaining invaluable lessons on honing an alert, sensitive playful ensemble dynamic.   I loved every minute of facilitating that process.

It was a memorable experience and one that will always stand out as being transformational for me personally. For this was my first experience of taking on the role of director rather than performer. One I embraced enough to direct Hansel and Gretel the following festival (2014), and Cosi Fan Tutte  (our biggest operatic hit by far, in 2015).   

Morag Maclaren, Creative Director of Cooper Hall and Frome Festival Patron

Tales of the Tunnels

Everyone in Frome has heard about the mysterious tunnel network that resides under our feet. So after kindly being shown some of these hidden spaces by the Frome Tunnels Project, we decided to create something utilising the archways under the bridge over the river Frome.

Our first challenge was to decide what we were actually going to do. We settled on a name for the project; Tales of the Tunnels. The idea of a site specific performance was suggested by Bo. The idea, a medieval morality play, around Barry Unsworths’ book Morality Play.

A reflection on mankind’s relationship with the earth, with each other and itself seemed apt . We had three “tunnels” so it seemed reasonable to map those onto the past, the present and the future, to try and untangle how we have got to where we are now and what a possible future could be.

We came across Gladys Paulus, and her amazing felt headdresses, they would come to define our characters. We mapped out a brief story, with four acts; The Past, The Present, The Future and the Epilogue. Frome Script Writers Group, took on the challenge of writing the scripts for each act. Bev Jones who played the Queen of the Underriver, Marc Cox played the Raven, Paul Ralston played the Sheep, Steven Jenkins played the Humanoid and Harriet Penrose played the Scorpion.

Shezhad Abbas was appointed musical director providing original medieval style instrumentals. Since the river was a major part of the location, we wanted to utilise it.

Thankfully the Frome Canoe Club agreed to us using their canoes. Electricity was kindly provided by Cooper and Tanner.

The Frome Wessex Camera Club took fabulous photographs and the Frome Film and Video Makers Club filmed the entire thing. The footage was edited by Alan Campbell. Luckily the weather held out and the project was a major success. We think it stands as a testament to the creativity and collaborative nature of the people of Frome. 

Bo Bowman-Shaw (Producer and Director) Andrew Shackleton (Producer).