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 36 weeks ago

I`ve been intensely occupied with my oldnew play, still with working title Not Me. What with family, friends and the festive season, I`ve hardly read a book or seen a play. 

This afternoon that changed. At one o`clock I called The Bush to hear that yes there may be returns for the matinee of Visitors, provided we queue for them in person. But we`re not on the tube yet, I cried! Can`t you write our names on your list, and keep them for us...

Thank you, Kind Young Man at Box Office. You must have known we would be exceptionally appreciative of this play. A gem. So old-fashioned, done with minimal simple set, in a naturalistic style, the only slightly non-naturalistic element being Edie`s delivery of an almost spiritual poem at the end.

Edie, played by Linda Bassett, was a woman suffering from early stage dementia. Arthur  - Robin Soans, was her farmer husband, and Stephen - Simon Muller, their insurance agent son. A disppointment to them and to himself, it seemed. Kate - Eleanor Wyld - came on board as a lodger/helper, and we had all we needed to convince us that life is strange, difficult, sometimes tragic, and ends in death, but that being invited to observe at close hand, in careful emotional detail, the colours and shapes of some of its saddest journeys, can feel indescribably rewarding. This is the magic of live theatre, that no internet, film, television, medium can equal.

I am currently arguing with myself (and my characters) just how far I can let the themes and issues of Not Me play out through nothing more than `conversation` between the characters. Visitors strengethened my  resolve to keep going with it. 

We sat next to an American woman. She belonged to a group based in Florida of almost fifty people who come to London each January, with a brief to see fourteen plays in fourteen days. Then they go back, and meet to discuss them all! 

2 years 40 weeks ago

Saw Great Britain by Richard Bean last night, and, along with my three companions, was disappointed by it. In fact you could say we were fiercely critical and unable to comprehend the rave reviews which had impelled these Manchester friends, visiting London, to choose this play.

However, on the tube on the way to N12, as we talked loudly about it an elegant woman sitting next to me asked which play we were talking about. Turned out she was a journalist, had worked in print, and now was at the BBC. She assured us her friends and colleagues, who had all seen the play at The National with Billy Piper, found it superb. Entertaining, witty, of the moment.

Can a great play be both of the moment and timeless? I was reminded of a workshop to which I was once invited, at which 3 younger writers and I all produced twenty minutes of script on a certain topic. My script consisted of a scene in which two sisters talked. The other three writers produced terse, tight, lines, never longer than 5 or 6 words, in which `fuck` `shit` and the rest figured consistently. 

Have I blogged this tale before? Maybe. Eventually, possibly embarrased by the differences in writing styles, the oldest member the company mused as follows: well, he said, there are plays, of course in which people just come onto the stage and start talking. Take, for example someone like Chekhov. He did that.


2 years 42 weeks ago

Yes yes yes. I`m getting  further into play - scene four coming up. Following the current fashion so it will be an hour and twenty five minutes with no interval. Where did such a fashion spring from? Still no title for it, and given that it is a splicing of two earlier plays, Not Me, and Remedies, still some uncertainty.  Particularly as the play is about uncertainty. 

Last night saw Wildefire at Hampstead Theatre. My ears suffered for it. I have never met an actor or director who hasn`t insisted that shouting is not the way to convey passion, violence, anything really on stage. And Wildefire by Roy Williams is written with great conviction. And some of what failed to please me was simply - differences in taste of what you like to see on a stage. I was once invited to a workshop with a small company, and the three other writers produced openings in which every third word was fuck and no line longer than six words. My style stood out a mile - until someone there, the oldest actor in this company, said soothingly, as if to comfort me: well, of course there are plays in which people just come on and start talking. He added, thoughtfully: like, say, plays by Chekhov....

But back to the shouting question. The passionate voice of the playwright Roy Williams, telling us all is not well in London, was blunted, for me, by the noise which almost never abated. 

And why was the brilliant Lorraine Stanley not on the cover of the programme? Nothing against the pretty young policewoman who was..But. 

2 years 43 weeks ago

I`m returning to my blog and website after a break. It`s been a period of great activity, actually, but the reporting instinct seemed to have left me for a while.

The other day we saw Electra at the Old Vic, and loved it. Intense, exhausting.  

I`m happy to have returned to work on an old/new play, whose previous two versions were called Not Me and Remedies respectively. New characters, but same theme/s. This time it is going well, but has no title. 

One thing I have finally learned to do in London is: read on the tube while ignoring everyone else. Currently reading Unexploded by Alison Macleod. Set in Brighton it reminds me of the fact that we keep planning to revisit the place. 


3 years 5 weeks ago

A busy summer. My story `The Dressmaker` has been sent off to one or two places. I have been reading, making notes for new work, and seeing one or two plays. Perseverance Drive at The Bush was a treat. It was loud, full volume most of the way, and Act One was so strong, thought-provoking, and entertaining, that friend and I both wondered how Act Two would get beyond Act One. In fact, Act Two only just managed to impress us as much as Act One - but that is the price the production (or the play) had to pay for its explosive, colourful, musical first half.

At The White Bear I saw a new play by Torben Betts called Muswell Hill. I went on Dress Rehearsal Night. I was distracted by the drip drip of an air-conditioner on the wall above me. I got wet.

The play was almost brilliant  but not quite. Each of the characters had quite a few long ( felt long) speeches in which they revealed their stories and their angst. And there was comedy and irony. Perhaps the way it knitted together made for a great garment - but perhaps just not entirely my style.

The saga of what happened at The Tricycle has been of concern - to me, and others, I think. I would give a great deal to have heard (verbatim) all the conversations that led a) to the theatre asking the UK Jewish Film Festival not to accept funding from the Israeli Embassy, b) to the Film Festival refusing to not accept the funding...and so on. Whatever the rights and wrongs ( I think the theatre was wrong,) the films I have seen connected with this festival have been Israeli ones, and have been liberal, open, and not what you would call pro-rightwing Israel in any way. What is more their makers have continued to work within Israel with impunity, and have been praised widely. Still, no-one is going to give me more detail than was disseminated in the media, so I will have to imagine the conversations. Someone will soon produce the play, I imagine. The twist at the end being that the folk at The Tricycle changed their minds. 

(`The Scapegoat,` shining light as it does on a little visited corridor of art/British cultural history, relates to the keen Christian Zionism of William Holman Hunt. )

3 years 8 weeks ago

We have had visitors for a month. They leave on Monday so I started to look at what was on on the London fringe. A play called Invincible caught my eye. St James Theatre, a transfer from the Orange Tree.

Then I read the blurb. An educated London couple relocate to the north and meet up with an uneducated northern couple - they start by teaching them about Karl Marx, and one or two other enlightened London things.

Suddenly, series of images hit my inner eye, as I thought of all the conversations, and meetings I have had since our move to London, with people who didn`t know ALL KINDS OF THINGS. And I remembered the booklined homes of some of the people we knew in the northwest. 

And I couldn`t bring myself to book. 

Maybe I will regret not seeing this play. But for now I`ll look for something else. Adv ice welcome. 

3 years 9 weeks ago

Last night I went to a fascinating reading. Ann Michaels, writer of the amazing Fugitive Pieces, The Winter Vault, and poetry, presented her new work which is somewhere between a book of poetry and an art book. It is put together in memory of her late father Isaiah Michaels, of Toronto, and (in the company of my visiting sister Judith) I was utterly absorbed by the event. Did I get it? Did I understand what Ann Michaels and her artist colleague Bernice Eisenstein were trying to achieve? Well, yes but not entirely. 

The book, `Correspondences,` is produced in accordion-style, opening up in a quaintly old-fashioned way. A challenge perhaps to ebooks, mass produced books. There is the poem, by Ann Michaels, in which (if I understood correctly) she was trying to describe things that language cannot or should not describe - in language. The art works are portraits, by Bernice Eisenstein, of great people with whom Ann Michaels` late father had had `conversations.` I don`t think that literally he had met all these great people and thinkers. But I think Michaels was trying to describe the depth and breadth of his intellectual world - and the word `holocaust` was not mentioned once - or not mentioned at the reading.

I discovered yet again that one of my great talents - and though I might sound vain this is the truth, and I have noticed it again and again over many years - is to be the person to whom it is said, by a speaker in a Q&A session: that is a very good question.  I think my very good question, put carefully I hope, was about what other people, specifically other children of this Jewish intellectual, thought of Ann Michaels` way of remembering him.  Writers take power into their own hands when they choose to describe their families, whatever kind of descriptions they write.  Michaels` answer emphasised that above all she tries to describe people with immense immense respect, at all times. 

As she kindly signed my expensive purchase of the unusual accordion-book I told her my tale of how 15 years earlier, just after I`d been blown away by Fugitive Pieces, I`d been on a train to london, heading for a play rehearsal. I sat opposite two Jewish women from (as I recall) Cheshire. Feeling at that moment highly significant as a playwright I told the women where I was going. `I am a writer,` I said. `Oh,` said one of them, `My niece is a writer too.` `What`s her name?`  `Ann Michaels,` was the reply.  That shut me up.

3 years 12 weeks ago

What an interesting week. I finished the story, and am sending it out, or starting to.  Spent 3 days in `training` for some proposed voluntary work of a challenging nature. Not certain whether I will mention this here. Suffice it to say, it feels like giving something back to London - or trying to.

Last night I saw 5 Kilos of Sugar, a new Israeli play in translation, at the Tristan Bates Theatre, in the Actors Centre, Covent Garden. A lively piece - which for me brought issues of translation in general, cultural issues and complexities in particular, to the fore.  The play is by Gur Koren, directed by Ariella Eshed. 

This afternoon I am doing a workshop on playwriting at a school in Southgate. I have been preparing different scenarios, but of course for a group of 60 eight year olds, I realise anything could happen. I`m thinking of telling them about the audition process, and will perhaps audition the teachers, and assistants if there are any......lightheartedly of course. 



3 years 13 weeks ago

I`m getting close to the end of a new short story, 5000 words, which has a working title: The Dressmaker. I think our move to London disturbed my concentration more than I had imagined it might, and am delighted to be getting back to a steady writing routine. At any rate, I have the word-count, which is a useful framework. I have an ending - one which surprised me slightly, until I saw how inevitable it was. Several ideas and threads I am very pleased with.

(Still having discussions about The Scapegoat - and going to some interesting plays. )

I reread The Grapes of Wrath for the little reading group that seems to be evolving in our block of flats and the next one.  The political and economic power of the book, and the prose descriptions of the American climate and scenery - all stunning. But I found, as I did when I read it years ago, that the way the dialogue is written interrupted the flow of my reading - and in any case, the impact of the book was never meant to be the kind of complex analysis of character which for me makes novels unputdownable, and plays gripping.

3 years 17 weeks ago

Tuesday I attended the 2nd seminar of a course called Projections: Persona Obscura, run by Canadian Mary Wild at the Freud Museum. Got there easily - Northern Line + bus. Walked up the carpeted staircase thinking of Freud and things associated with. M Wild re-introduced herself as Canadian-Iranian. I was all set to feel interested and involved, when she showed her first slides. Photographs first of all of Tony Blair and George Bush, supposedly `doppelgangers,` this demonstrated to us by the trick of changing their look until they looked identical. Next, pics of Barack Obama turning into George Bush too. I think she was trying to show us her belief that Blair and Bush, Obama and Bush, are doubles of each other, ditto all politicians are the same, and therefore she, Ms Wild, was an anarchist.

The logical connectivity of her images and arguments was flawed in a hundred places. At the end of the `show,` in which she had played us entertaining clips from films about twins and doppelgangers, she presented us with another slide. A kind of graphic demonstration, if I got it right, of different kinds of leaders, and how bad most of them are, and how they are all images of each other. (I THINK.) (Insert I THINK before every sentence for as  long as I am on this topic.) In the top right hand quadrant I got as far as Bashir Assad, Binyamin Nethanyahu, and Tony Blair (and the Pope I think, or perhaps he was one square to the left, in the company of George Galloway...)

She enthused about the similarities of all the `leaders` though some, I think she meant were less objectionable than others, and the conclusion (I THINK!) was that she was happy be an anarchist. We don`t need to nominate other people, ie politicians to act for us. 

Well. It was years since I had heard such a ludicrously over-simplified critique of the whole of the contemporary world. I looked at this young woman, and wondered if she had a CLUE as to how  hard how many politicians, local and national, had worked to facilitate her smooth passage from wherever she came from in Canada to where she now stood in the Freud Museum.  Transport systems, hairdressers, hitech companies creating the laptop and powerpoint technologies she used so easily. Committees to pass laws and regulations to ensure the pilots who flew her here were not sleep-deprived; Select Committees in the UK to ensure the buses and tubes on which she travelled were run properly.

Laugh if you like - I know modern life in its complexity rarely runs smoothly. But it runs.

I was, I have to say, dumbfounded by her youthfully enthusiastic ability to smile at us all, while talking Complete Nonsense (on politics, not on film..) I was followed downstairs by a group of people who all said I was right, in the Q&A, to complain, as politely as I could manage, about the meaninglessly naive political material this otherwise very interesting young woman threw at us.

Wednesday - a more satisfying encounter with politics with a small p, through a play, Bakersfield Mist. The politics, personal and aesthetic, of art.  A great (though short) play by Stephen Sachs.  The Duchess Theatre. With Kathleen Turner and Ian McDiarmid. Based on a true tale of a trailer-trash woman in California who bought a painting for 3 dollars and became convinced it was a Jackson Pollock... Very watchable. On the tube (did I mention..the Northern Line... I live on it..) I thumbed through the programme and was interested to see that Ian Mcdiarmid`s understudy was David Keller. He played Socrates in Kate Bannister`s production of my play Xanthippe at The Brockley Jack. There it was in his CV, in between Hamlet (Old Red Lion.) and Julius Caesar (Maison Bertaux.) Xanthippe, at the Brockley Jack. 

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