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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47 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.




52 weeks 6 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. 



1 year 3 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.




1 year 4 weeks 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.


1 year 6 weeks 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.



1 year 10 weeks 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.



1 year 12 weeks ago

Saw I am Daniel Blake yesterday.

I worked as a Psychiatric Social Worker, at Withington Hospital in Manchester, between 1985 and 1988, during an early season of Thatcherite cuts in public services. I particularly remember something called Discretionary Furniture. When I started work, people being rehoused, usually in association with chronic and enduring mental illnesses, got items under this heading - such as fridge, bed, table, chairs. By the time I left (my first episode of ME ) Discretionary Furniture had disappeared. Wiped off the welfare map.

Much has changed since then, and not for the better, in terms of what the state can or will do to help people bordering on destitute.  

I Am Daniel Blake told a powerful story that needs to be told.  It was well done and heart-breaking. 

It almost seems irrelevant, but I have started now and there will be no going back. I have agonised, grumbled, joked, and noted for two decades, but not kept a record. After the intriguing play R & D at Hampstead Downstairs (last blog but one) I finally recorded my puzzlement and fury at just how many profound and/or unprofound stories get told which include the theme of a dead, often recently deceased...wife. I am Daniel Blake is yet another of these. Is it really only because it`s hard to find women of a certain age able to perform well? Daniel Blake loved his wife, and she gets a mention. She suffered, I presume from Bipolar Disorder, and he was a saint, caring for her, and holding down his job. Of course there are countless fine men in the world like Daniel Blake. But it`s the sheer regularity with which wives are killed off in stage, film, and fiction, that bothers me. 

For the sake of balance..I knew a struggling actress (59) in the northwest who used to regale me with horror stories about her encounters with benefit officialdom. `There are jobs available,` they would say to her. `Receptionist, cleaner, classroom assistant, B&Q, and so on...` `But I am an actress! That is my profession!` she would scream at them, and then repeat to me later on the phone. 

What should I have said?

1 year 12 weeks ago

I rarely do this. And the play in whose interval I left last night was so full of good things, I hesitate to confess my act.

However, leave I did. If, reading this, you want to write to tell me why I should have stayed, then fine. Please do. 

I felt perturbed on the way home. Was I insulting the writer, the director, the actors, by leaving? I recalled that the odd person - or couple, usually a couple - had walked out of one of my plays at an interval. Not many, I`m pleased to say. 

The play was called `Oil. ` It was by a sharp, thoughtful writer, committed to depicting both character and relationships, and also to a strongly held world view about... well, I suppose about oil. Or `oil and all that that entails.` Words like imperialism, capitalism, colonialism, climate change,  coal reserves, industrial revolution, figured in the articles delivered in the programme by people like Dr Robbie McLaughlan,  a lecturer in English Literature at Newcastle University, who also works on postcolonial studies and psychoanalysis. (A person with a wide world view, clearly.) In fact reading of someone who claims an equal interest in postcolonial studies and psychoanalysis - brought to mind the saying ( who said it first?) `The personal is the political.`

I just googled `T p i t p ` and found that many eminent feminists have refused to admit to inventing the phrase, but all agreed that collective ownership of it belongs with millions of women, in public and private conversations, probably from time immemorial! 

The writer of `Oil` was Ella Hickson. I will definitely look out for more of her work. The director was Carrie Cracknell - ditto. The theatre was The Almedia. I will continue to love it. Anne-Marie Duff acted with passion and drive - and I wanted her character to keep going, to drive on through the next century, and somehow cross the gaping chasm created by the play, between the personal and political!

So what, you might ask, so unsettled me that I chose to leave at the interval?

It was something that jarred about the way the play was put together, or stitched together, something to do with what I call the inner flow of the piece. Something I find hard to put into words, though as I am trying to blog about it, I need to try!  Something to do with the mismatch between a brilliantly staged ( lots of sound and flashing lights and pictures) history of capitalism, of energy, of the development of the industrial world, and an account, depicted in vivid scenes, (lots of sex, laughs, pathos) of a mother daughter relationship which at first appeared to ground each successive scene - but then, on reflection, didn`t seem to have done so at all. And neither did the inexorable process of economic development that took me as far as the 1970`s, give enough backcloth to the mother daughter scenarios I saw played out - strong and entertaining as they were.

 In which play did a character say:  `I trust I make myself obscure.` ?



1 year 12 weeks ago

As I was saying. The performances were colourful. Musical backing was drumming, by a guy called Sanassy Traore.

Three shows, but no more of this production, unless the play reverts to being more like the one I wrote.  Am I right to insist?

I met with Mandy Hare the other day - Mandy directed the first ever production of SOD at Pentameters Theatre, Hampstead. One review it got was so bad that a guy came, a Californian, who said he`d never before read such a damning review. He`d come in case there was something new and amazing going on that hadn`t yet been recognized. He left at the interval. That early script was in need of dire cutting, editing and rewriting, and Mandy (now writing and producing her own children`s show,  Freya`s Christmas Adventure,) never felt that directing was her ultimate goal.  

The next production, I have to say, was not much better. This time the director refused to let me be at rehearsals, made serious changes to the script, (still not yet sufficiently honed,)  which failed to improve it at all, but made the whole thing weirdly hard to comprehend. Jenny Quayle was a stunning actress, but I`ll never know what she thought about the play in which she starred - as I was not allowed to get close to the actors. 

The next production, directed by friend Laurence Summers at the rather alarming venue The Lion and Unicorn in Kentish Town was intellegent, thoughtful, careful, and made sense. By now I had done a great deal to the script, and the play was beginning to mean what I had wanted it to mean all along. 

In 2011 I was offered a 3 day slot at the Lowry Centre Studio in Manchester, for one of my plays. I chose The Song of Deborah, and came across dynamic and well-known director Abbey Wright, who read it and loved it.  Artistically Abbey was clear, deep, and dynamic. She understood every word of the script, and of the sub-text. By the last night of this production, I knew - The Song of Deborah was fine.

I have sent it to one or two more people in Israel. One day an agent here will pick it up and run with it!

Meanwhile, it`s autumn, it`s London, and there are plays to be seen.  Tonight we are going to R & D by Simon Vinnicombe, Downstairs at Hampstead Theatre. From the blurb it looks fascinating. But I was dismayed to read that the play starts with a man whose wife has just died.  Have I ever mentioned my hang-up, my issue with countless plays, films, and TV scripts written by men? Why is it so many of them start with the motif of the deceased wife. It looks as if generation after generation of male playwrights feel that no real drama can exist that relates to real women between the ages of thirty and sixty - certainly not if they are married!    

1 year 15 weeks ago

So much has been going on. The Song of Deborah, translated into Hebrew by the lovely Avital Macales, was performed last week and this at the Khan Theatre Studio, Jerusalem. I was there, and saw it.

That is to say, some, perhaps most of it was performed, but a significant amount of it wasn`t, and I`m now back in London trying to reach a balanced decision about what to do next.

Two scenes were simply cut out. Lines delivered in my version (and surely, I am the writer, my version should count for something?) were allocated to other characters, in a completely inappropriate way. 

The scene in which Sisera, captain of the Canaanite army was killed by Yael, wife of King Hever of the Qenites, was inexplicably changed so Yael no longer killed him by hammering a tent peg through his skull (Judges Caps 4 and 5) but instead she strangled him. 

I could go on. I won`t. I am still collecting my thoughts.

On the flight home I read one of the best short stories I`ve read in decades. `Tricks` by Alice Munro. Gorgeous.  

Copyright © 2010 Deborah Freeman
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