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Frome Memorial Theatre and Frome Musical Theatre Company Behind the Scenes Feature

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In 1925 a memorial hall was opened for those who fell in the First World War and in the 1930s seats were installed and The Grand Cinema was born, reflecting the growing interest in film. Today the Frome Memorial Theatre still stands to remind us of the fallen in both World Wars and other conflicts around the world.

But it is also known as the home to Frome Musical Theatre Company, formerly the Frome Amateur Operatic Society which has been putting on shows since before the First World War and in fact celebrated its centenary in 2006.

During a twelve month period, over 10,000 people come to see their shows and they are regarded as one of the best musical groups for many miles.

The society usually performs five productions each year – a traditional musical in May, a youth production in August, a modern musical and a concert in October and a traditional family pantomime just after Christmas.

This year’s pantomime, Robin Hood and the Babes in the Wood, played to large audiences and Frome Times went along to a dress rehearsal to give you an exclusive behind the scenes look.

Philippa Kaye takes up the story…

Cast members prepare.

Cast members prepare.

The sight of Nurse Nellie Knickerelastic, aka Humphrey Barnes, chairman of the Frome Memorial Trustees in full make-up and costume is a treat indeed. Stalwart and dedicated advocate of both Frome Musical Theatre Company and the Memorial Theatre, Humphrey explains the long process of pulling a show together.

“Pre-audition singing rehearsals start the first week of September with auditions held at the end of the month,” he explained. “Once the cast is selected, rehearsals then continue with the principals rehearsing twice a week and the chorus and dancers rehearsing once a week. From November the principals join the chorus and dancers and they then rehearse together leading up to the show.”

The Frome Times was privileged to be invited backstage at the dress rehearsal on the stage of the Frome Memorial Theatre with the ensemble of 37 players in full costume and make-up.

In an incredible atmosphere of camaraderie and organised chaos, players and backstage volunteers rise to the final challenge of this last run-through, and the importance of these backstage supporters is completely apparent even to the untrained bystander.

The show could not proverbially go on without their expertise and dedication; the dressers, the chaperones for all children under 12, the call boy, prop and stage setters, choreographer, wardrobe mistress, singing coach, lighting, sound, make-up artists, hairdressers and more.

A variety of wigs.

A variety of wigs.

In my wanderings I stumble across the hairdressers, Annette Lee and Pam Nielsen, who are set up in the Assembly Rooms, where many of the rehearsals are carried out in the early stages of a show. A row of polystyrene heads, bedecked with assorted wigs, labelled for each cast member, are arrayed on trestle tables. Cast members flit in and out for final touches.

“Wigs are dressed and supplied by our wig mistress, Peggy Snook,” says Annette. “We can send her a wig that looks like something the cat dragged in and she sends it back like this.” Annette shows me a beautiful ringleted hair piece all ready for the next head through the door.

Wardrobe mistress, Kate Wareham, explains that the costumes are hired from a company in Wales as are all the props and scenery drops. Although many people might assume the costumes are made for each show this is not financially viable nor would it be possible to store them and, in fact, most of the costumes would then become redundant as the variety of shows calls for a continuous stream of different attires.

Heather Singer is past chorus girl, principal and now backstage helper, 48 years with Frome Musical Theatre Company and still going strong with the same enthusiasm that had her vowing as a child that one day she would be on stage herself. “In those days children were not allowed to take part,” Heather told me, “but the shows I watched inspired me so much that I knew as soon as I turned 16 this is where I wanted to be.”

Downstairs, amidst the chaos of preparation, I take a quiet moment to look at the framed photographs lining the hallway dating back to Frome Musical Theatre Company’s conception, then known as FAOS (Frome Amateur Operatic Society).

Show after show after show detail the loyalty and draw of the stage. Young faces are pointed out that still stand here today, which is testimony to the dedication and love of this craft, FMTC and this wonderful theatre.

FMTC peform Robin Hood

FMTC peform Robin Hood

No divas, no prima donnas, just a group of people, of all ages and with one single goal; to entertain us, the public, and to nurture the musical theatre talent of its members, as well as maintain this amazing resource in the heart of our community.

We are truly blessed to have the Frome Memorial Theatre in our market town of Frome but it cannot evolve and sustain itself without its volunteers, nor without the generosity and support of the people of this wonderful town.

Humphrey Barnes showed me the progress made in the fund raising and installation of the new theatres seats. “All the new seats you see with names on the back have been made possible by a donation of £100 from each of those people.”

From the small amount of time the Frome Times spent absorbing the atmosphere of the production, this seems a very small sum to allow both children and adults to sit in comfort and watch the incredible variety of shows and acts throughout the years. Long live the Frome Memorial Theatre, its volunteers and all who tread her boards onstage or behind the scenes as members of the Frome Musical Theatre Company!