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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4 weeks 2 days ago

October 22nd 2017. Yesterday I attended a reading of this lively play at the Canal Cafe Theatre. A shame I didn`t ask Ursula Campbell, who directed it, where the title came from. 

Call me naive, but I take titles seriously.  I was telling members of a new writing group only the other day – I am reticent about most writing issues, but am outspoken on the topic of titles.

Being the sort of writer I am, I find the title `God is Dead, Let`s Make Love,` makes me think, first of all of Nietzche,  (and how to spell it!) and then about sexual mores in the twenty-first century. The play, written with youthful flow and American wit, is about a married couple who have become polyamorous. Though ..shock horror...in one brief moment about half way through, it almost metamorphoses, and lo is almost about an old-time pre-feminist man who is just plain polygamous. This in spite of the fact that the story is not told just from his perspective.

Whatever. It was my first visit to Canal Café, and I was delighted to find, in the cast, Kathryn Worth, who played Julia in the production of my  play Candlesticks, at Pentameters Theatre about ten years ago. Great to meet again. Reminiscences!!

The final message of the play, (read with energy by a lively cast,) was, as I recall: `Love hurts,` which is certainly true for some people some of the time, for others a lot of the time.

But beyond that – and the title led me there – I wondered if this young American writer was comparing the free-love culture of some sexually-adventurous Californians with the other side of modern American life – the silver ring kids, who swear to be virgins until marriage, and ever-faithful after it.

If my hunch was right, then the connections between God Is Dead and Candlesticks were actually quite strong. Candlesticks was about what four different people believed, or didn`t believe. 

And now to google polyamory. Lots to learn still.  Though I do recall hearing something about it on Woman`s Hour.... 

 

 

 

4 weeks 5 days ago

5 years ago I submitted a collection of diaries and letters re family history ( 1920 - 2012!) to Writing the Century at the BBC. A producer wanted to use the material, but only some of it. Specifically the vivid diary I kept in May and June 1967, when I was a young woman in Jerusalem at the time of the Six Day War. I would only agree to this being used if I could put it in some context, where it belonged, because in 1967 I was confused in many ways. She did not agree, and although she phoned me twice in one weekend to persuade me to let her use the material, I stood by my decision. Now we are in the Balfour centenary year I am re-reading the diary, and have decided to edit it, and put it on-line.

5 weeks 5 days ago

I saw `Foxtrot` at the Garden Cinema, Embankment. I agree with the stunned and impressed reviews I have read, re this moving Israeli film. I recommend it strongly.

After the show there was a Q & A with Samuel Maoz, the writer/director. 

But I admit to feeling simultaneously enthused and weary as I sat there wondering how to phrase the Q  I needed to ask, the one no-one else seemed to be asking. 

It had, as my questions so often seem to have, something to do with where women fit into the story being told. So OK this guy, Samuel Maoz has earned his accolades, and his filmic way, simultaneously oblique and direct, of telling a wider audience about the shadows that hang over Israel, dark shadows of history and of current conflict, was brilliant.

His stars were Sarah Adler, and Lior Ashkenazi, and a whole cast of Israeli soldiers, Palestinians living under Israeli occupation, and the odd camel.

In the opening, heartbreaking scene, two senior soldiers knock on the door of Michael and Davra`s home to inform them that their son, Yonatan Feldman has been killed in the line of duty. Davra, even before being told, passes out, has a fit, is injected with some form of tranquiliser, and spends the first third of the film drugged in the bedroom while we share, for a long half hour, the heart-breaking performance of Lior Ashkenazi as the grief-deranged father.

What?

Why did Maoz, through almost the only unskilled plot device,  render this young soldier`s mother unconscious, so that we, the audience, would witness only the father`s grief? What was he telling us? Surely he must have been telling us something. No other scene in the film made so little sense to me.

Interested to hear others` comments on this.

 

 

8 weeks 10 hours ago

Yesterday I saw Mosquitoes. By Lucy Kirkwood, at The National. Lost count of the number of times I wiped my eyes, and it was only a matinee. A moving and thought-provoking play, superbly written, acted, lit, directed, presented. The lot. 

This morning I woke up recalling a poet, who happened to be a Professor of Physics, in my first writing group, in Manchester. He was a great poet, with a scientist`s eye, I always thought, for colour, detail, texture, light, and so on. One day he came to the group with a letter from some authoritative critic, who had told him he had a problem. The problem was, the critic had said, that his poetry lacked `a metaphysic.`

Secretly – I never said – I understood what this critic had meant.

I thought about this scene last night after Mosquitoes. The angst-ridden hilarious, frequently moving, occasionally heartbreaking scenes of old people, frustrated siblings struggling to understand and love each other, teenagers coming to terms with life and its problems – all of this was authentic, outstanding.

All the actors were excellent. Olivia Colman, Olivia Williams, Joseph Quinn, Sofia  Barclay, Amanda Boxer, Yoli Fuiler, Paul Hilton.  

 I did find, however that the scenic mind-blowing stuff about the Hadron Collider clashed, literally, with the `human` content of the play, although all the characters` stories were linked with academic careers, or non-academic careers.

The use of the completely unconscious forces of physics as theatrical, emotional metaphors in a tale about dysfunctional families didn`t ruin the play, for me, because the overall effect was bright, sharp, funny, thought-provoking.

But if I had to choose a moment that for me epitomised the play`s philosophical problem it was in the brief scene between the two sisters. One was comforting the other because her teenage son had disappeared. One said, very tentatively, do you think we could pray? The other said, even more tentatively, well how would we do that? They couldn`t really decide how to do it. They held hands briefly. I think ( from memory, I have no script, and the moment passed quickly) one said it doesn`t matter what you think or say.

Religion, the arts, politics, society, music, philosophy, psychology, I found myself wishing, in spite of the play`s excellence, with an exuberance of witty dialogue that was a genuine pleasure to listen to, that the characters might link with some other area of human endeavour. Space, time, the universe, eternity, infinity; all that stuff. They were staged brilliantly, but when the characters enacted their scenes, I was with them wherever they were, in whatever place the dialogue put them. Furniture, walls, trees, parks, whatever the scenes needed appeared before my eyes, and became real. When the Hadron Collider was activated, or whatever happened to it – I was in the theatre, watching special effects.

 

 

 

 

10 weeks 1 day 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. 

 

 

 

 

15 weeks 2 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. 

36 weeks 1 day 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. 

 

 

 

 

 

38 weeks 1 day 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.` 

39 weeks 1 day 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.

 

 

 

44 weeks 16 hours 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. 

 

 

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