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Frost at Midnight
by Tony Leach

Performances on Friday 12th and Saturday 13th September,
at the Taunton Thespians' premises in Wilfred Road, Taunton.
Show starts at 7.30pm.
Tickets £5.00 - scroll down for details
Tony Leach has acted with and composed music for local theatre companies for a good few years now. He talks here about an upcoming production of his short play, Frost At Midnight, first written for a site-specific production within Coleridge Cottage, Nether Stowey and produced by the Taunton Thespians in collaboration with the National Trust.
In autumn of 2012 the Taunton Thespians were, as is more often than not the case, tirelessly at work... Not only were rehearsals in full swing for their November production of Lend Me A Tenor but planning was also well under way for the imminent terrors of the Dunster Ghost Tour - a terrifying collaboration with the National Trust and @2K. The 'thesps' were very busy and probably looking forward to a well-earned break, when who should come knocking at their door? Who else but a small cottage in Nether Stowey... with a very exciting prospect to make a truly unique piece of theatre.
The 'small cottage' in question nestles rather unobtrusively in the centre of Nether Stowey - and, given this picturesque village is blessed with an abundance of beautiful old buildings, one could almost describe this cottage as unremarkable, save for one thing: It is the historical residence of one Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
Caroline Taylor, then Assistant House Manager of Coleridge Cottage for the National Trust, wanted to honour the famous poet's 240th birthday. She proposed an evening candle-lit tour of the house, called Telling Tales, using actors to portray Coleridge and his household as historically documented at the time (who included: the famous poet himself, his wife Sara Coleridge, his baby son Hartley Coleridge, his lodger Charles Lloyd and their nanny). Audiences would be invited into the house to witness unfold, as a fly-on-the-wall, an enactment of a Coleridge-family evening in his actual home! All Caroline needed was the Taunton Thespians to make it happen! And so it was at this point, armed with no more information than this, but with plenty of enthusiasm, I agreed to come on board as an actor.
And what a special and rare opportunity it seemed to me - to help create something that was part theatre, part art installation. The chance to live and breathe a character in the very room he had lived and breathed. Touching the same walls. Walking the same floorboards he had walked over 200 years earlier. Fascinating! And a bit creepy as well - which I confess added to its intrigue, in that way morbid things can do sometimes. Like the opening of a ghost story. As if we had to tread softly in that house, or risk stirring up some echo of the past...
It soon became clear we needed to structure our evening and this required a script. And so, once more, I volunteered for the role - feeling possibly a little more apprehensive this time, being dimly aware that I knew very little about Coleridge, his life or works... But I still had a lot of enthusiasm which I hoped would make up for the lack of everything else. And, with a bundle of facts at my feet and a Coleridge biography in my hand, I set to work!
At this point it is long overdue I mention Rene Kilner, our producer and director, without whom nothing would have been done at all! It was her inspiration and energy which drove the project on. And some driving it required, for time was of the essence! What with the hurly-burly of autumn productions, ghost tours, Halloween and Coleridge Cottage's annual Apple Day celebration, our window of opportunity to get into the Cottage, try things out and rehearse with the in-house tour guides was very small.
Early on we saw the need for an uncomplicated, strong theme to tie the evening together, and quickly it was decided to centre our story around one of Coleridge's poems. How lucky we were that so many of his most celebrated works were composed under the very roof we would be performing under! In fact they read like a greatest hits of Romantic Poetry... Kubla Khan, Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner, Frost At Midnight.... Yes, how fortunate we were.
And so, a dramatization of an evening in Coleridge's life framed by his battle to complete his poem ' Frost At Midnight' was born - set against a backdrop of the warring egos and frustrated dreams of his household. And I won't say despite of, but I think rather because of, the limited time frame and charged atmosphere we were able to create something very focused and deceptively simple which I remain proud of to this day.
I'm rather glad to say no spirits were roused by our performance - at least, none of the other-worldly kind. No ghosts reported! Despite it being an intense night of 8 back-to-back performances for 8 different tour parties, with one show starting as the other finished, I think we trod softly - respectfully - enough not to tempt a visitation. A strange, unique atmosphere marked every performance... as if each audience and cast member alike knew a certain amount of reverence was due. We were, after all, in someone else's home...
In the picture you see the original cast in 2012 as portraying the historical inhabitants of Coleridge Cottage. They are:
Maat as Samuel Taylor Coleridge, or 'STC' as he was known to his friends. A founder of the Romantic Movement. An energetic, dynamic and passionate poet with a hot temper to boot. Prone to literary brilliance, flights of fancy and absent-mindedness.
Charlotte as Sara Coleridge - Wife to Samuel. Prone to making up words. Capable, funny but deeply sad at times. Too long spent cooped up with a young child and a perpetually distracted husband has taken its toll.
Tony as Charles Lloyd - lodger and student to Coleridge. Son of a Birmingham business man, he aspires to be a writer and is tutored by Coleridge - his father paying a rather princely sum to Coleridge for the honour. The country life-style doesn't suit him.
Swannie as Nanny - (of whom little is known historically) - in our play she is a sort of homage to the 'nanny' we've all encountered in some shape or form, in both fiction and reality. The universal constant from Shakespeare to Eastenders. The 'Nanny'. Stout of heart. A rock to the young family.
Baby Hartley as himself - Son of Sara and STC - without giving away too much of the plot Hartley only has one line in our production, which is 'Wahh!', repeated over and over.
So, at the risk of drawing to an abrupt close, a brief paragraph more is all we require to bring you to the present day! I do hope your appetites have been whetted as there is a chance to see Frost At Midnight, the original historical one act play by Tony Leach, in an upcoming production.
Performances on Friday 12th and Saturday 13th September,
at the Taunton Thespians' premises in Wilfred Road, Taunton.
Show starts at 7.30pm.

Tickets on Sale NOW

  1. Via Ticketsource, our online booking service
  2. From the Taunton Tourist Information Centre, in person or by phone – (01823) 336344
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