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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2 years 6 weeks ago

There were many wonderful facets to life in Manchester. I don`t regret a milli-second of the years I spent there. All thirty-seven of them. But. Fact is, life in London moves at a different pace - at least for me. This morning I worked on further changes to Remedies. Then we set off to Tate Britain where we saw two exhibitions. Britain and the Empire, and Frank Auerbach. But between the two, or en route from one to the other, we went through the marble hallway to the sound of piped music, or not quite music, which was impressively weird and moving. What we heard was a sound installation by Susan Philipsz. Fourteen damaged wind or brass instruments, German and British, gave out sounds of almost-music, almost the Last Post, almost but never quite harmony. An apt and disturbing presentation - all the more evocative because of yesterday`s vote in Parliament for the bombing of Da-esh in Syria. 

2 years 6 weeks ago

Fascinating play at The Arcola, Dalston, last night. Writer Patrick Marmion, director Michael Kingsbury. A play about the life work and relevance of the anti-psychiatry psychiatrist R D Laing - whose books I read before and during training as a Mental Health Social Worker in the nineteen-eighties. 

I recall the last book of Laing`s that I acquired - Knots. Poems. I recall noting that he seemed ultimately to have tied himself up in knots.

Then again, when working as a Psychiatric S Worker at Withington Hospital, Manchester, I referred a young woman to The Arbours, the therapeutic community set up by Joseph Berke, who separated from Laing in 1970. Patients, or rather people at The Arbours were supported round the clock by teams of psychotherapists.  

I loved the play because it took reality - the reality of mental illness, or impairment, or suffering, or whatever you call it, is hard enough to grasp anyway - but it took this reality and `fictionalised` it further, thereby trying passionately to reach some universal truths or at least truths that a thinking audience might take home.

In our last fifteen years in Manchester I sat on Hospital Managers` Hearings, which hold reviews for patients detained under the Mental Health Act.

We were not actually Hospital Managers. Coming to a review, nervous, probably schizophrenic, drugged, the first thing the patient was sometimes told at a hearing was : `You do know, don`t you, that we are not actually real Hospital Managers?` 

Each time I heard this, my brain gave a Laingian leap of recognition, a moment of clarity. I knew beyond doubt that the patient was at the least a bit confused. I knew the patient was frightened of our perceived power. We did actually have - given to us by successive Mental Health Acts - the power of discharge, if we felt the patient did not need to be sectioned anymore - or at all.

Who, you might ask, were we to say? Who were we? The interesting point is not so much who we were - the people I sat with for several Mental Health trusts in the northwest - but who, by acts of parliament, anyone thought we were supposed to be. We could actually have been anybody at all. Simply people the real hospital managers thought might stand in as quasi-managers for the purposes of checking up, not on the patient but on the  people who between them were depriving the patient of the freedom to walk the streets... be continued ....



2 years 6 weeks ago

Just been to see the film `Carol.`  Superb mis en scene, acting, colours, and a nice story - but I feel too strong a need for zappy, convincing, argumentative dialogue, to be sufficiently in love with film. Shame. The two protagonists were seriously in love with each other, and the mostly baddie husband was great to watch too. But oh, just imagine if real life was like some films. Long stares while no-one says a word....imagine, for example in the post office...or (for a younger generation) at a parent teachers evening at school. 

Parent:  `How is little Charlie doing., then?`

Teacher:  Long long long stare, breathes in, breathes out, stares again, breathes again, stares again.....

I`m particularly convinced by dialogue at the moment because I`m continuing to hone Remedies, and loving it. Today I discovered The Balint Society. An intriguing organization. It was set up by Michael Balint, a psychoanalyst at The Tavistock whose father had been a Hungarian doctor, and developed an interest in helping doctors to access their feelings, and even analyse them - specifically their emotional responses to relationships with difficult patients. I have not managed to discover whether the society invites communication from/with patients, allowing them to access their emotional responses to difficult doctors....


2 years 8 weeks ago

Last night I saw the screening from New York of Steinbeck`s brilliant play `Of Mice and Men.` 

I recognized from the outset, and did not change my opinion, that this is a superb play, put together cleanly, no lose screws, no cracks in the perfect structure.  Heartbreaking, moving, meaningful, dramatic, all the things everyone has ever said about it. It highlights gold-rush capitalism, racism, sexism, and prejudice against people with learning difficulties, almost like an a-level text, except for the fact that the story carries you through, the characters all so real, so known, so humanly damaged that you cringe, watch and weep from start to finish.

And yet.  I am a woman, and not a young one. It is years since I was in my early twenties. When I was, I was not noticeably a beauty queen. In Of Mice and Men we saw a representation of the world, a difficult American competitive world, and took it as a representation of the struggles, foibles and prejudices of the whole human race.

And I woke up this morning with a bitter taste in mouth about the whole art of great theatre, as I had to acknowledge to myself yet again, yet again, that here was another great work of dramatic art in which men of all shapes sizes, characters and names played out the dramas of being horribly human. And as so sadly sadly common, even while applauding the superb actors in their well-deserved effusive curtain call, it came home to me yet again. There they stood.  Man, man, man, man, young attractive woman, man, man, man, man. Man, man.

But, said my husband, you couldn`t tell that particular story with any women in it who were thirty, forty, fifty, sixty, nine stone, ten stone, God forbid eleven stone, or who had grey hair, or less than pretty faces, because it wouldn`t have been the same play. Would it? Well no, it wouldn`t. But oh how I dream of a whole world of plays in which I see myself, and women like me, represented as dynamic integrated parts of a human whole.

Steinbeck, I read online, wrote to the first actress who played Curly`s Wife, with words of comfort. `Don`t worry,` he wrote to her, `She is a kind girl. She`s not a floozy. `

2 years 12 weeks ago

Saw a superb production of Our Country`s Good at the National, which swept away all grumbles about the scale, the sheer panache of that place. (Yes, sometimes I do say to myself, what`s it all about? After all a play is just a play, isn`t it? )

At the end of this production, the rare thing happened - I was left feeling that no, a play is not just a play after all. It is, it was that night, a soul-elevating experience, a process that connected people across time, space and culture, that illuminated pain, history, prejudices, visions, ideas, music (the music, by Cerys Matthews was gorgeous,) in one glorious meal served up on a silver platter. In short - I loved it, tears or no tears....  

Tomorrow I`m going to Israel, the country my parents moved to after my father retired from his role of Professor of Anatomy at Bristol University. 1968. My parents both grew old and died in Jerusalem. My two sisters have lived in Israel for half a century. I am the odd one out - could say archetypal middle child - in our family. But yes, we spent seven years in Ashkelon, in the nineteen seventies, and our children were born there.

Why is this suddenly a blog topic? `The Song of Deborah` has been translated into Hebrew. A radical Jerusalem director has already expressed interest in mounting a mixed production - Palestinian, Israeli, Jewish, African, actors, sharing the roles of the various tribes and groups fighting for their survival in 1200 BC. At a time when people are attacking and being attacked, knives, guns, bare hands, fists and feet, it seems as if nothing has changed in three thousand years. I have two very-much-alive Canaanite gods in the play, which I think it fair to say nobody in the world believes in now. But enough people believe in enough gods for there to be more than enough conflicts. 

And now for a walk on a pleasant autumnal day in North London....

2 years 14 weeks ago

In my late teens, I was drawn to poetry, languages and literature. But other forces in my life - not malign ones, but parental, caring, and head-mistress forces - seemed to believe, unanimously that I had the makings of an....economist. Looking back I have some (mostly good-humoured) theories as to how on earth this might have happened. 

Standing sadly to one side as those talented individuals who glided or were guided directly towards literary careers (we ate cold lunch with a girl called Sally, who grew up to be the amazing Sally Beauman,) I found my way towards my parallel (to writing) career in Mental Health Social Work, etcetera. I actually went to university – seems incredible now – to read Economics. Standing in the queue to register, I was hit by the realisation that this was a terrible mistake. Urgently turning the pages of the Prospectus, I found to my relief a Dual Honours Degree. Economics with Philosophy. I loved Philosophy. It was the closest I could get to the areas I gradually moved into, as I finally grew up. And it certainly represented me at the time. One big `Why?`

But I do remember plays, poems and books that spoke to me, even while I didn`t dare to say to myself: I`m going to try and be a writer. I remember The Cocktail Party.

Did we read it in the sixth form? (It would have been in English for Non-English A-Levellers.) Or was it in English Club, of which I became Secretary in those years? I have in my teenage diary that Sally later to be Beauman and I chose Androcles and the Lion as the play we were going to read.

These memories flooded back last night when I saw The Cocktail Party, at the newly set up Print Room Theatre, situated in the Coronet Cinema building - Notting Hill Gate.

This production was directed by Abbey Wright, who directed The Song of Deborah at the Lowry Studio before we left Manchester.

The style, in sharp blacks, whites and greys, was almost surreal. I regretted not having got there in time for the pre-show discussion between Abbey Wright and Lyndall Gordon, who has written a biography of T S Elliot.

Then, today, another day, I switched on TV momentarily, and suddenly didn`t regret one minute of my immersion in the social, psychological issues of the world around me. I have blogged a bit before about doing voluntary work for a charity in London that supports ex-offenders.  In a 5 minute glance at the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester, I saw John Timpson speaking about Timpson`s successful recruiting of ex-offenders over many years.  I`ve already been on the phone to Timpson`s Ambassador in their valuable work – and will hope to make a connection here.

And…in what I am finding a most interesting week, some nice news about The Song of Deborah in its newly translated Hebrew version. (Translator Avital Macales.) There is real interest from a fascinating and colourful Jerusalem director. More of this in due course….






2 years 18 weeks ago

Saw this at Theatre 503 yesterday. Theatre 503 from my home is a trek. Change of tube, then bus, same back. But yes - worth it. My first visit to this theatre. The play was sturdy as a Devon oak tree. Whichever way you viewed it - it held together. Presumably the writer Bea Roberts grew up among, and knows people like farmer Geoffrey, played by David Fielder, and vet Michael, played by Nigel Hastings.

Minor quibble - it was advertised for Age 12 upwards. I would push that to a bit older.Not because of the language. Every other word being fuck,bloody or whatever seemed reasonably in keeping with these characters (I wondered whether friends and family of the writer are saying `Oh that`s what Uncle Bill did,` or `That guy reminds me of the man my Dad smoked with in the pub.` ) A draw of the play for me was how it moves through time. Actually, I have been deliberately setting the scenes of Remedies, my work in progress, over three or  four years, and have even doubted that. Last night reasssured me, which I should haven`t needed (at my age!) that for those lucky enough to write a Good Play, which And Then Come the Nightjars most definitely is, you can do anything. I sat next to a young girl who agreed with me that all the new media, phone  TV & video technology in the world can`t threaten the buzz and sense of human connection of live theatre done well. In this case, really really well. 

For me there were other connections. In 1996, when I was recovering from a second, three year episode of ` M E` or something like it, I sat in, for several weeks, on the rehearsals of  Brecht`s `The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui,` directed by Chris Honer at the Library Theatre, Manchester. It was a gift to a convalescent, as I was. I cheerfully bankrupted us by getting taxis home if exhausted. I could choose my hours. Two hours one day. Three or four the following week. After five weeks I was hugely improved, and had learned a great deal about Brecht, and watched with fascination as David Fielder grew into a briliant Ui. 



2 years 23 weeks ago

Armed with laptop, which magically seems able to record (even when it isn`t switched on!) changes I make to `Remedies` and a new 15 minute play, and poems from my new mini-collection..and ipad, and mobile phones (no reception we`ve been told..) off we go to Shropshire, to house and dogsit for a friend who`s going to Ireland. 

Moving to London, loving London, relishing what it offers us and trying in a small way to offer a bit in return...I have experienced a strong desire to get Out Of London. That desire being fulfilled this week.

Saw a preview of Crossing Jerusalem by Julia Pascal at Park Theatre. So hard to write about Jerusalem. A noisy, colourful play. I was distracted by the poor woman who fell flat on her face - walked past me in row one. There was a hard to spot corner piece on the stage, and over it she tripped....Reminded myself: if and when next production comes along, try not to trip up the audience. 


2 years 24 weeks ago

Saw two plays this week about law and legal systems. Invisible, at The Bush, by Rebecca Lenkiewicz, directed by Michael Oakley.  And The Trial at the Young Vic, directed by Richard Jones, adapted from Kafka`s book by Nick Gill.

I confessed to Jeff my husband that in my youth I never got to the end of the book. He confessed to me that he had never read it at all. As to what exactly Kafka felt guilty about - both the real Kafka, and the Joseph K of the book/play - this is less clear. Far less clear. I found Michael Billington`s review of the production hilarious, and therefore arrived expecting to be disappointed. I think they might have shaved off 15 minutes, because it didn`t take the full 2 hours advertised (no interval) but actually we, and most of the audience, found the production gripping. The travelator that moved us from one scene to another worked well - but I find it hard to give other rational accounts of what gripped me. The woman I sat to agreed that the play was about an internal world, therefore not rational. 

Invisible was a commission from The Bush, and like so many commissions I have seen, had more head than heart in it. For me, there is nothing like a play that someone wakes up one morning simply Wanting to Write. Three parallel stories of people who lost out, or were going to lose out, through the cuts in Legal Aid, were tied together conceptually but not dramatically. So it was a powerful and well-written play, but in clear segments.

Tomorrow I am meeting a director to discuss a play, and meanwhile working on Not Me, which has changed its name now to Remedies.

2 years 25 weeks ago

So, weeks have gone by and I have not returned to my blog. Today, travelling back from the Lake District, I got into conversation with two people from Brighton, both involved with the arts, in different ways, with special interests in fringe festivals and museums. The kind of people I enjoy meeting on trains. 

And afterwards it occurred to me that it is for people like these that I keep this website and write occasional blogs. So that should someone feel the slightest bit curious to know about my work, there is a place they can find out.

I have, over the last few weeks seen several fascinating plays. Three in Israel, at Jaffa Theatre and Cameri Theatre, (`Gorodish,`) four or five here in London. One play, The Oresteia at the Almeida was really three in one. It ran for close to four hours.  I have continued to work on my new play which may be having a name-change soon; I have been in discussion with certain people about a new kind of writing group in a very particular setting, with an unusual and specific group of participants. I have been writing poetry - several poems, in fact, for the first time in a few years. I have been accepted on a ` trial basis` by a group of active poets in London (details when acceptance confirmed, assuming it is.) 

In other words I have been doing the kinds of things that writers do. For every time a writer publishes a book or pamphlet, attends an opening night, does something that merits headlines, or even a mention somewhere, there are countless other writers doing exactly what I have been doing since the last blog. 

Hay was at the end of May. We`re moving to the last weeks of July.  The people on the train saw I was reading How to be Both, which we discussed. Before going away in June I asked for advice about `something to read` in a bookshop, and was asked by the helpful assistant what I had most enjoyed recently. I mentioned What I Loved, by Siri Hustvedt. Ah, said the assistant, then you will love Lydia Davis.

Actually, I did. I read, then passed to a daughter in law, `The End of the Story.` When did I discover that Davis was actually the first wife of writer Paul Auster, whose second wife is Hustvedt. According to something I read online, Davis figured as one of the characters in `What I Loved.` Both interesting and irrelevant, I think, depending where you stand on issues such as `where do characters come from?` 



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