ALAN Bennett is the undoubted leader in the “talking heads” genre, and his famous monologues found a massive new audience in lockdown, performed by a new generation of actors.
Of course it’s the perfect way for locked-down self-isolators to continue their thespian activities, and thanks to the fast-evolving technical developments, more or less anything is possible. You might think that’s only true for professional studios and film-makers, but now Frome Drama has proved that all you need is faith, determination, skill and time, combined with talent and perseverance.
Eight years ago John Palmer and his writing partner Al Brunker set about writing Terminus, a play in which all the characters were separated but linked, either on a train or on a station, talking only in monologue, by letter or on mobile phones. It went on to win two major NODA awards. When the effects of Coronavirus and its lockdowns became clearer, and members of drama groups across the country realised they were unable to rehearse and perform as usual, Terminus clearly had potential for resurrection.
John had already directed two Dennis Potter plays for Frome Drama and following discussions with the committee of the company, known for its depth of talent and adventurous choice of plays, a plan took shape. Auditions were advertised and carried out via Zoom for the ten roles on offer, and rehearsals started. The director wanted an overall visual identity for the project, rather than the “home” backgrounds of the actors, each of whom was provided by one of those magic “green screens” only very few of us understand. Graphic designer Suzy Howlett liaised with John Palmer and stylised images of train carriages, stations and more were downloaded and partially hand-coloured.
Video and sound editor Simon Bowman, whose skills have been seen at the Frome Drama home at the Merlin Theatre, worked on the time-consuming and taxing business of making the performers seem (almost) natural on screen.
Avoiding spoilers for this mystery thriller, the story unpeels as we learn more about the protagonists and the tension mounts.
Terminus is a remarkable achievement. Some of the actors have never met each other in “real life” – (the time before the pandemic). They certainly didn’t meet during this production. “We are looking for a great big hooley when all this is over,” says John.
There are some exceptional performances from the FD stalwarts and newcomers, especially from Liz Hollis, Astrid Callomon and Tabitha Lamb, the youngest member of the cast. The story is compelling and (mostly) convincing, cleverly knitting together the lives of apparently disparate people.
It is the endeavour and daring of the whole ensemble that should encourage anyone, anywhere, to grab the chances offered by Zoom and all the technical advances, Frome Drama shows how it can be done, creating an entertaining 90 minutes of new drama that we, or at least 1,000 subscribers, can watch on YouTube.
If like me you are a keen supporter of Frome Drama, get your tickets quickly. Points West is broadcasting a preview on Friday, so make sure you get your limited watching rights before the whole region is notified. My guess is that theatre groups from a much wider area will want to see how this works – and FD has set the bar very high.
For more information, visit https://fd-terminus.eventbrite.co.uk or the Eventbrite website and search Terminus
Pictured are Laurie Parnell (left) and Eddie Young (right).