Plays by Deborah Freeman

I have completed `Remedies,` a play about M E.  Background research...

Writing Groups

I am setting up a new writing group in East Finchley, to be held in the atmospheric location of an East Finchley...

Novels by Deborah Freeman

 A few years back. I answered an ad on the Radio 3 website, from the conceptual art company, Blast Theory...

Poems by Deborah Freeman

These appeared in the journal Jewish Renaissance, 2008.  `Fish.` `Fasting.` `Open a Gate for Us. ` `After the...

Under the Palm Tree Blog

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1 week 2 days ago

Last night I saw `Prism` at Hampstead Theatre, written and directed by Terry Johnson.

Surprisingly, the first of this writer/director`s plays I`ve seen – missed previous ones perhaps because I was in Manchester.

I read the programme with interest – after the show. I am glad to have seen the play.

But. Or should that be `And…?`

Actor  Robert Lindsay had suggested to Terry Johnson that he write a play (for him) about the famous cinematographer Jack Cardiff, who had apparently done amazing cinema work for decades, and photographed and filmed many of the Western World`s most beautiful women.

Normally, when I come across a story that involves one successful male artist asking another successful male artist to write a play about another successful etcetera who took pictures of the world`s most beautiful women, I do get a strong whiff of the scent of pre-feminism, and (rightly or wrongly,) keep away.

But this play was at Hampstead Theatre – I recently submitted `Remedies` to them – and it is easier to access than the National or the West End.

Of course the theatre world I dream of is one in complete reverse, a mirror-image almost. Imagine a not very beautiful woman asking another woman, beautiful or otherwise, to write a play about another woman, a play about a woman who spent a lifetime filming beautiful men. Are you imagining this?

Hard, isn`t it?

I got the feeling that the brilliant Claire Skinner, who my granddaughter was watching only yesterday in one of the first ever episodes of `Outnumbered` might have been less than enthusiastic about her own role in the play.  An old writing friend used to say that if you ask each character in a play who they think the central character of it might be, he/she will say: me of course.  Not in `Prism` they wouldn`t. In this play, neither characters nor actors could be in any doubt as to who owned the stage.  (And owned it, I will own, very entertainingly.) 

Given that it touched on almost all my prejudices, all at once – I also tend to dislike plays where the same person writes and directs! – I was surprised to find how much I really enjoyed `Prism.`  It was above all theatrically articulate, each scene the right length, shape, the opening of act two lifting it humourously and colourfully. And I hope Claire Skinner enjoyed playing Katherine Hepburn more than the pre-pre-pre- feminist wife of the play`s protagonist.  My late grandmothers, brought up in Lithuanian Shtetels, not given the intellectual education of their menfolk, and all that, were ten times, no, twenty feistier than she was. 





6 weeks 3 days ago

I haven`t blogged since the spring - how come, I ask myself? Been busy, busy, with many interesting things. 

Having completed Remedies, I invited four actors round for tea - or rather a glass of wine - and a readthrough. It read well, with a natural flow. So I began to send it round. Pleased to report that there is already interest from a lovely fringe venue I have often been to, and I have a couple of interested directors too.  No definite decisions yet, but an extremely positive feeling.

Meanwhile these are the closing chapters for `Mrs Faust` I think. A final meeting with my lovely Cornerstones contact Susannah Okret, who turned out to be the very same person who picked up on the novel in 2009, when she was working at Rogers Coleridge and White as a Literary Agent. There is another interested party too, but as yet no signed agreement or even an unsigned one. Who knows? 

During the summer break - going to Orkney next week - I will try and decide whether to start writing the sequel to `Mrs Faust` because fact is I`m dying to do that, or whether to contemplate, research and then write a new play. A prospect I find exciting because at the moment I have no idea what a new play would be about! 

Writing groups are back in my life. The one mentioned here, at The Aylmer Pantry,  still waiting to be fully booked....and another one. More of that another time. Good weekend all! Happy to be back here. 

27 weeks 3 days ago

Off to Leeds today, for a talk I am giving tomorrow as part of  the `Milim` Festival of Words. `Milim` is the Hebrew for words, actually.

My talk is called The Journey of a Play. While preparing I began to fantasise that plays are little bundles of energy, words, potential, flying here, there, all over the place, mapping the journeys they need to take to get wherever.... The play whose journey I will be tracing is `The Song of Deborah.` 

It started way back with an argument with my mother in Jerusalem (how I miss her,) a cold coffee in a polystyrene cup at The Royal Exchange, Manchester, on to Mandy Hare`s neurotic rescue dog Harriet. And onwards.

I have finished a rehearsed reading version of `Remedies,` and already have positive feedback from two directors. The play is of wide interest - who doesn`t know someone who has had, or thinks they have had (or have ) M E - and I am looking at ways of getting support for the production. Any ideas - get in touch via here. `M E` is one of two plot lines in the play, both of which affect all the characters, both of which are about the human need for clarity, and knowledge - to make things clear. Ha ha. 

Aren`t novels strange? Kate Atkinson is one of my most admired writers, but I found her latest book, A God in Ruins, mysteriously hard to get into. Often if I don`t start a novel easily, I give up, but this time I persevered. Now I am in it, loving it, and relieved.

And plays seen? Last week, at great expense, we saw Travesties at The Appollo. I was not feeling well, which may explain my doziness through Act One. Tom Stoppard`s talent is without equal. He was young, brilliant, and positively bouncing with ideas, when he wrote Travesties. 






29 weeks 3 days ago

What a week. Meetings, guests, The Cherry Orchard at The Arcola, a day of Jewish Book Week, and finally, at last, on to the end of Remedies. Or rather – the end for now. Next stage a reading. I am about to send it to two directors, but if a director reads this and is interested – get in touch.  Also, an approach to organizations that support people with M E (`whatever it is,` as my G P character Harry remarks twice in the play,) and of course –  light at the end of the creative tunnel – Funding.

The Cherry Orchard was one of those occasions where I regretted sitting in the front row. Dynamic and bouncing, a bouncing production. Noisy. I have always had a naïve faith in Chekhov`s way of writing, and feel that creating a too dynamic production is a bit like putting too much icing on a trusted family recipe for birthday cake. The play doesn`t need it.

The Arcola production was `An English version by Trevor Griffiths, from a translation by Helen Rappaport,` and was one of those productions where I found myself distracted by considerations of `How did that line come to sound like that?` and `I think Chekhov wrote a long rambling speech or two in every play. Where are those?`

`The Stage` said the production was stripped of its Russian soul, which felt like a harsh judgment because it clearly worked hard to be full of soul, punch and meaning. But whose?

Sunday was my day at Jewish Book Week. A lovely session in which Claire Hajaj and Dorit Rabinyan shared stories of cross-cultural love, marriage, families, pasts and futures. I am always intrigued to see how writers take the materials of their own lives, spin them, weave them, change them where necessary, to make fiction. I loved this session. Turned out Claire Hajaj`s mother was from Sunderland – as mine was. Her father was an Israeli Arab who grew up in Yaffo, Jaffa.

I felt I wanted to say to both these young writers - don`t worry, you are not alone. Countless people whose lives may look, on paper, simpler than yours, do actually see beyond the boundaries that for you, have been broken down by love or family.

 Elena Lappin and Elif Shafak had a beautiful conversation about languages,  and writing, and Adina Hoffman was interviewed by Ian Black about her new book, `Till We have built Jerusalem.` 

30 weeks 3 days ago

Tuesday February 21st 2017. Life has been hectic. I may look as if I don`t have too much to do. But inside my head my characters, Harry, Karen, Colin and Lynn, have reached the climax of their troubled journey through my play Remedies, one of them has…no I won`t say here … and the final scene is only lines from the end.

Just as well.  I have already posted info about Remedies on the facebook page of the So and So Arts Club, and had several interested responses. Over-excited, I invited interested people before dealing with those last 3 pages. I hope they will be patient. Only a day or so….

My attention was distracted by a good few hours hard work, which it took me to prepare my presentation, (talk + slides,) for my session at `Milim`, in Leeds. March 15th, 12.00 pm, at Leeds Library. `The Journey of a Play.`

Last night I dreamed that the people who staged Song of Deborah in Jerusalem, revived it ( without my permission) and toured it in the UK,  in a mixed Hebrew English version. But to my shock/horror, I found that they had changed it, now beyond recognition.  New cast members played roles I could not make head or tail of. A smiling teenager wearing a turban carried a huge cream cake, which he ate as he crossed the stage, and I asked myself: how on earth did he get into my play? So I decided to take action. I interrupted them, shouting, striding back and forth across the stage, shouting, this is not my play, what on earth are you doing to my play? In the dream I received solemn lectures from the director (a bit like, but not identical to Avi Assaraf,) an actress, (a bit like, but not exactly the same as Yaffa Schuster,) about what the play was about, what it was for, and how we were going to proceed with it now that it was on tour in the UK. I woke up furious!

One of my stories has been shortlisted in a competition.  I am weighing up whether to withdraw from it, in order to allow the couple of literary journals I have submitted it to, to decide if they are interested.

Meanwhile I am mulling over comments on `Mrs Faust` and enjoying a hilarious rejection from an agent, whose assistant wrote that `X would like me to convey to you her congratulations on writing a work of such quality, which she really enjoyed. However….`

Going to see The Cherry Orchard at The Arcola in a few days. I do wish more theatres would allow writers to write people talking, the way Chekhov did so well. Those who try to do so (I am one of them) might be light years away from Chekhov`s quality of discourse, but to be honest, some of the high-tec, gimmicky style of stagings I have seen recently really leave me cold.

Last year, I saw  `People Places and Things,` where a stunning, moving script was combined with some high-tec shenanigans. Now that was just superb.

Back to a new short story, and the last 3 pages of Remedies.




35 weeks 2 days ago

I saw Mary Stuart, by Friedrich Schiller at The Almeida with the amazing Juliet Stevenson and Lia Williams. As my time goes by, I am aware that stamina is not something I can take for granted. Actually, since my recovery years ago from two long episodes of a post-viral syndrome, I haven`t ever taken it for granted. When I watch something like Mary Stuart, my thoughts do dwell on stamina! Just how do they keep going, I ask myself, whether play, acting, direction, are good bad or indifferent! (In the case of this Almeida production, all the above were better than excellent.)

Then, always, I am drawn to consider the writing of a play, and in this case, to ask myself what might have happened in its translation and its adaptation. This show was adapted and directed by the same person, Robert Icke. Did he translate it first or work on another translation? What changed? 

The play took me back to my childhood, to memories of my paternal grandmother, Pere Yoffey, who lived with us in the last year of her life. Born in Lithuania to a family of Rabbis and talmudic scholars, she had received lilttle of their education, but instead had educated herself in the language of her beloved Germany. In the eighteen nineties, when she migrated with her family to Manchester, she was (at first,) disappointed. When German books were withdrawn from Manchester libraries in 1914, she was heartbroken. I remember her in our dining room in Tyndall Avenue, Bristol, (in 1960)  reciting long verses from Goethe, and from Schiller. Strange - both playwrights. 

Did Elizabeth the First, or Mary Queen of Scots recite something i had once heard, albeit unknowingly! 

I have been taken back to childhood for another reason this week. I am preparing a talk which I will give at the new Leeds festival of Jewish literature and writing. `Milim`. Hebrew for words. (March 15th, Leeds Central Library.) Preparing my talk about the significance of being a Jewish writer, writing in English, I recalled a tale my mother told about myself aged 5. I was given a lift to my new school, Redland High School for girls, where there were almost no other Jewish children. The kind lady driving me, I was told later, chatted to me, and asked, among other things: Do you believe in fairies? After serious thought, I replied: No. We`re Jewish you see. 



35 weeks 6 days ago

Saw The Children yesterday, at The Royal Court. I came home with lots to think about. I admired how alive the production felt, like some kind of magnified ants` nest on the stage. By this I mean that every prop was used, characters moved continually from sink to chair, from chair to floor, to rug to door, from door to window. Nosebleeds or other bleeds featured, to add red alarm to the show. The intensely thought-provoking content of the play was depressingly stimulating. 

Of course perhaps the play needed all its on stage activity, seeing as the three characters, Hazel, (Deborah Findlay,) Rose, (Francesca Annis,) and Robin, (Ron Cook,) were confined in one space. The three unities were observed – of time, space, and action. That the acting was excellent hardly needs to be said- the names are enough.

Interestingly, this contemporary, almost post-truth, post-nuclear, post everything play had a sense of something old-fashioned about it. Was this because all the characters were in their late sixties?

And for me, in spite of the play`s wit and challenge, something about the nature of the characters was not completely satisfactory. Call me old-fashioned (I am,) but I didn`t feel that any of the three people had been remotely hurt, not in any lasting way, by the earlier infidelity we heard about.

Though I did say to myself - thank goodness Lucy Kirkwood, a young, intelligent, passionate and fluent playwright isn`t afraid to tell, not show, when her play requires it!

When I got home, I looked up the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, and contemplated, as Lucy Kirkwood probably hoped we all would, some of the dangers of our world.




40 weeks 16 hours ago

Last night we saw The Screwtape Letters, at the Park Theatre, and this evening saw the screening of No Man`s Land, at The Phoenix East Finchley.

The Screwtape Letters, I should have known, were one of C S Lewis`s most Christian books and this production, funded by the American Fellowship for the Arts, a Christian proselytising organization, was unashamedly evangelical, which definitely put me off. I do not like to be preached to,  and certainly not in a play. Most of the audience didn`t mind at all, being better prepared than we were, and it is fair to say that what with the setting (hell), and all the content, it really was like preaching to the converted.

The moral I took from the experience was not that Christianity is the only path to love and the possibility of eternal life - but `read reviews if there are any before you go to see a play.`

My take on theatre is that a good play can be about religion and dogma if it chooses to be, but it should not be a vehicle for preaching it to an audience.

No Man`s Land was the opposite. Hardly surprising. Pinteresque dialogue flowing effortlessly from one topic to another, between one character and another, with no clear (to me) message at all.

With all the confusion that that gave rise to, I would choose a play with no message every time.  And the acting was superb. 

Twenty years ago I was recovering from a 3 year episode of the `mystery` illness M E, and spent quite a bit of time tucked in an armchair, or in bed, watching TV. I used to worry that my imagination, my motivation to be out in the worldl, might be damaged, given that the illness seem to be taking an inordinate amount of time to clear up. When I watch episodes of Star Trek, with Patrick Stewart`s Jean-Luc Picard, and (never admitted it at the time!) enjoyed them enormously, I said to myself: well, at least ME hasn`t stopped me fantasising about travelling to new galaxies...So not much wrong with my levels of interest, curiosity, motivation, etc.


42 weeks 6 hours ago

To Manchester for the weekend, which is just as well, as I have been too busy to blog for a week or so now, and look forward to some northern air, out of London.

In the last couple of weeks I have attended the Writers` Group at the Actors` Centre, listening to a cross-section of work by members; a large cross-section. I have connected with a couple of other places and people that interest me. I have progressed to the final scene of Remedies, with ideas for a moving finale enhanced, I hope by the short directing course I did at Royal Central School of Speech and Drama.

Perhaps one of the organizations that exist to support people with M E might in due course support a production of Remedies. It is not only about M E, but does use it as a theme and motif.  In researching, I came across something else that interested me. Frustrated GP`s, unable to handle patients with ` M E,` can refer themselves to something called a Balint Group. Group therapy for `doctors with difficult patients,` set up, intriguingly by a psychoanalyst called Michael Balint. More to read there.

And then, of course, there is `Mrs Faust,` which I return to, almost daily, for a short time, to put what I think must be the finishing touches. 

Yes, a trip north seems a good idea. Good weekend all.



46 weeks 1 day ago

 Since last blog I have seen two plays. Of the moment, of our time, presented by top writers, directors, producers of London Town and the USA.

First:  The Red Barn, at the National, a play by David Hare based on a novel, La Main, by Georges Simenon.  The second, The Intelligent Homosexual`s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures, or iHo. By Tony Kushner, directed at Hampstead Theatre by Michael Boyd.

Having lived in London now for 3 years, I realise how rarely I got to see plays as they came out. I`m still relishing the opportunities.

But my hang-up, you could say (Jeff does,) obsession, with one particular issue in plays, mainly plays written by men which most still are hang-up about the over-use of what I call `the motif of the dead wife or mother,` well, it is on permanent `alert` here.

In The Red Barn I was initially bothered by what critics praised most – the expensive and noisy depiction of a violent storm, on-stage.

This bothered me because I am naïve about theatre. If a character shivers and says `I`m cold,` I believe her/him instantly. Seeing the three characters fight their way through Loud Blizzard Land, with ambitiously staged flashings, thunderings, blowings of wind, still didn`t make me believe that on the stage of the National Theatre I was seeing a real blizzard. Instead I saw an expensive and noisy depiction of one. Give me a good actor shivering, and a `woooo…` of sound FX wind, and I am easily persuaded of the reality of a storm in a play.

The mysterious, alienated tones of the characters, the sets in black and white, and the storyline being thin,  - as was actress Elizabeth Debicki, who for some reason was required to bare her breasts - none of this bothered me. That was the style of the piece, thought through and done very well.

Then, half way through the play Donald Dodd, (actor Mark Strong,) angrily encountered his disappointed father, (Michael Elwyn.) And I spotted it immediately. Thrown casually into the dialogue. There had been a mother, a Mrs Dodd - presumably so doddery she`d died years earlier. Of course she had, I whispered to Jeff, who is now used to my over-sensitivity to the killing off of mothers in theatre.  

Not that her premature death was recounted as in any way significant. Imagining that a difficult relationship with a mother might have contributed in any way to the anomie, the alienation, the uncertainty of Donald Dodd, was no more than some wild ultra-feminist fantasy on my part. How could a difficult relationship with a mother have the slightest connection with a man`s difficult relationships with women? And as for his living wife, Ingrid… Donald Dodd killed her with his gun as the play ended.

iHo, by American Tony Kushner was a three hour virtuoso theatre experience. A virtuoso performance by an astonishing cast. (So this is what Debbie Aldridge has been up to in Hungary.)

The show stunned me into a sense of excited and profound illiteracy. Paul Taylor in The Independent says the play comes from America`s ` great tradition of brutal, realist family drama,`  and writes that the evening `consists, in part of raucous, rampantly well-read dialectical slanging matches and brain-knottingly baroque family entanglements…`

It escaped my notice during the actual performance, each witty line challenged, overshadowed by some other witty line, often shouted, the anger, emotion, wit, politics with big and small p`s. But on arrival home and after studying the programme carefully, I had to look up apophatic and kataphatic… Great words.  

I am currently reading the third of the great Elena Ferrante`s Neapolitan Quartet. This one called `Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay.`  A superb read. On the front a blurb-quote calls it `One of modern fiction`s richest portraits of a friendship,` but I am finding it, particularly the third volume, something more like `The Intelligent Woman`s  Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a key to feminism…`  In this book, as in Kushner`s play, the personal is the political. Visceral scenes of societal and personal successes and failures – with women in it who grow from children to serious, struggling mothers, academics, (I know, you can be both,) and everything in between.

Somewhere in the play, about a well-read retired Communist longshoreman, someone mentions that the mother in the play, mother of Pill, Maria and Lex Marcantonio, had died in childbirth.  There was an older woman character, Gus Marcantonio`s sister, who we gathered had been around the world sourcing cults and ideologies, returning to America we`re not quite sure when, whose character, I fear seemed to me like that of a minor chorus, or even (dare I say it?) the token older woman.

The Intelligent Homosexual`s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures, is a brilliant play. Knowing more about the history of radical Italian culture in the USA of yesterday would have been helpful, but the programme certainly helped.

And yet, at the heart of the play was the old elephant in the room, which, for me, damaged the piece artistically, even though I could live to a hundred and ten and never write anything a tenth as good as Tony Kushner. That old familiar mother-shaped hole, that empty space, at the heart of London`s contemporary man-made theatre scene.



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