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 5 days 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?

47 weeks 4 days 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.` ?



47 weeks 5 days 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!    

50 weeks 5 days 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.  

1 year 5 days ago

So much going on at the moment. I saw Florian Zeller`s `The Truth` this evening, and although I laughed almost all the way through it, by the end, I was ready for closure, and thirsty for depth. Still, the audience had a great time. 

The Song of Deborah is being rehearsed in Jerusalem, and I am dealing with Mrs Faust, and Remedies at this end. 

Meanwhile my attention has been taken by a book. The first of the four volumes which start with My Brilliant Friend, by Elena Ferenti. My strong prejudice against all forms of translation, (bar, I have to say, that of The Song of Deborah into Hebrew!) has been overcome by this lovely novel. Some of the descriptions of teenage realities are so sharp, you can see, feel, smell, know, the people being described.  Beautiful depictions of girls reaching and passing puberty, makng me remember my most uncomfortable years...The slums of Naples, and the neighbourhoods of Redland, Cotham and Clifton in Bristol, aren`t alike. The strangely enclosed cluster of Jewish families with their youngsters in which my sisters and I grew socially - nevertheless seemed to have left me with an anguish of growing which I have always found impossible to describe in writing.

1 year 8 weeks ago

Remedies the play was put aside for a few months, as I have been busy with the Hebrew production of The Song of Deborah, (opening Khan Theatre Studio, Jerusalem September 27th) and with re-chaptering `Mrs Faust.` Currently all of Mrs F is laid out on my study table, chapter by chapter, while I check that the order works, dates fit, and modify the ending.

But the other day an email came from DAW, Directors Writers Actors, a group run from Diorama Arts, asking for submissions of opening scenes. I sent Scene One of Remedies, and they picked it up for a little workshop this evening. A director, Ursula Millar, and four actors, and a nice opportunity for me to see the people in this play given voices again - and bodies. Last time the play nearly got off the ground was in Manchester, where northwest director Andrew Husband did a reading, but I was never quite satisfied then either with the ending or with the behaviour of one of the play`s characters. She (the character) left the play - then called Not Me - shortly afterwards, and has not been seen again. 

I still find it odd that someone like me has ended up writing mostly plays - given how I see my stories as people, places, and above all words. But actors, and directors, I have learned start where they have to begin - people in bodies, because people do inhabit bodies, don`t they?



1 year 9 weeks ago

Years ago in my youth I tinkled around with a few lines, or even a page or two of Beethoven`s Kreutzer Sonata. At least I think I did. Or perhaps I`ve heard it so many times down the years that I feel as if I once tried to play it.

I do know, definitely, that I went out and bought Chopin`s Revolutionary once - for a very specific reason. A Jewish philosophy student at Bristol, called Shoshana Zaltsman (I believe she sadly died quite young) had a friend,  a medical student called Ghada Karmi. They were both strikingly beautiful. Shoshanah was fair, resembling (my sisters and I decided) Brigitte Bardot, and Ghada was dark. Both young women were from Jerusalem. Shoshanah from an orthodox Jewish family, and Ghada from a Palestinian family. In fact Ghada is now a known and pretty extreme (my personal opinion) historian of Palestinian struggles and suffering, and an activist in the name of (from what I have read of her opinions) deconstructing Israel completely as a Jewish state.

I must have been about sixteen, they probably twenty or twenty-one, when Shoshanah brought Ghada round to our orthodox Jewish house on a Saturday (Shabbat) afternoon, and Ghada played The Revolutionary on the baby grand in our lounge. I was deeply impressed by her passion, and her playing, but had no awareness then, that she was so scarred by cultural and social dislocation, as a result of the establishment of the State of Israel, that she would mature into the bitter and  uncompromising voice with which she speaks today. 

Oddly, it was that scene, myself a teenager, our home in Bristol, that came back to me as a result of sitting through the superb play at The Arcola, `The Kreutzer Sonata.`  The play is adapted from the eponymous short story by Tolstoy, by Irish writer Nancy Harris. Nothing to do with politics, it nevertheless evokes a response which relates to the effect music can have on emotions.  Actor Greg Hicks was alarmingly convincing as he explained to the over-heated but deeply involved audience how he came to murder his wife. Blame music, was at least part of the message. 

Perhaps I connected music and passion with the life and beliefs of Ghada Karmi for another reason. I have just returned from 10 days in Jerusalem, where I attended a couple of rehearsals of The Song of Deborah, in its beautiful translated Hebrew version. (Thank you Avital Macales.) Yaffa Schuster who runs African Israeli Stage Theatre Company, is an Israeli, Jerusalem born and bred who believes in social justice, and an end to the occupation of the West Bank. Her theatre company is composed of Israeli, Sudanese, Palestinian actors, and she is proud to be a trail-blazer of sorts. I say `of sorts` because I have seen that much of the Israeli theatre scene is radical, liberal, multi-cultural. But no-one I have yet come across believes in the deconstruction of Israel. 

The play is in the `Tochniah`, the July-August-September brochure of the Khan Theatre. I do get a bit of a buzz, and a sense of unreality. `The Song of Deborah` is on the same page as The Dance of the Forests, by the Nigerian writer Wole Soyinka, and...Uncle Vanya in Hebrew!

The break in Israel interrupted my attempt to write a good synopsis of "Mrs Faust" and now it`s back to that task. I am more than half way through. Do other writers find producing a synopsis as difficult a task as I do?





1 year 21 weeks ago

Lots has been happening. Last night I saw The Maids, at Trafalgar Studios. I was dismayed that Claire and Solange, played by two infinitely talented and energetic actresses, delivered much of their dialogue while shouting with American accents. (Uzo Aduba is American, Zawe Ashton a Londoner, both overwhelming in brilliance and energy, but why oh why were they directed to perform at such decibel levels?)  Because of the shouting I failed to catch a great deal of their dialogue

From what I did hear clearly, of course the talents of Jean Genet shine through, but I found myself  thinking (yet again!) about the rights and wrongs of domestic help in homes, and how this topic has not ever been explored to my satisfaction in theatre.

To my shame it is not the topic I`ll be returning to as I write one or two more plays. My works in progress include one about a mystical (Christian) caretaker to a Reform Synagogue, and his relationship with an unmystical feminist member of the congregation. And Remedies – a play which only awaits two more scenes till it is ready for a production – about the mystery illness M E.

I have known actors and directors who declare that they would not tolerate having a cleaner or a maid. The implication is that employing someone to clean your house is invariably a form of social injustice or exploitation. Yet I have sat with these same people in rehearsals where the rooms, the venues, the pubs, have quite clearly been cleaned by someone employed by some person or organization that earns better than they do.

An in-depth analysis of inequality in capitalist economies along with a feminist analysis of housework and where it fits into the wider economy, and probably countless more analyses and philosophical debates – all these are surely available to me through google. Question is -  am I going to search?

No. I am busy researching Barbastelle Bats, believe it or not, in order to rewrite the penultimate chapter of my novel Mrs Faust, which is the only chapter – glad to say – that requires a complete rewrite. Last week Jeff and I had a day out in Cambridge, and I found a) where my protagonist`s older sister had done her degree, and b) also where the family rent a cottage for weekend. Somewhere between  Great Eversden and Little Eversden.

Another bit of good writing news. The Song of Deborah, translated into Hebrew as `Shirat Devora` is now definitely scheduled to be on in Jerusalem. It will be at the Khan Theatre Studio, end of September. Thanks to Yaffa Schuster and her company, African Israeli Stage.





1 year 28 weeks ago

The Song of Deborah was translated into beautiful Hebrew last year, by the talented Avital Macales. Very quickly the Israeli theatre company African Israeli Stage became interested in it, and currently Yaffa Schuster, Artistic Director of African Israeli Stage, is in touch with me for discussions on possible developments. 

Meanwhile I am continuing with Mrs Faust - hard work, but I`m loving it. And my membership of the group Highgate Poets means that poetry is in my mind more than it has been for a long time.

Mrs Faust, and poetry bring me the same conflicts - and I have not found the inner or technical resources to handle these. Perhaps I never will.  I refer to the difficult question of how to write something authentic, which means (for me) derived from my experiences, without any of the characters or events being identifiable in ways that might prove even a little bit offensive...

Anything autobiographical in The Song of Deborah is deeply hidden. Although...

1 year 29 weeks ago

I had committed to a workshop with Manchester Women Writers today, and decided to honour the commitment in spite of being ill since saturday with a winter virus. (At the best of times, I do not have a friendly relationship with viruses.)

I felt distinctly under par, although warmly welcomed by the group, which included a Manchester Woman Writer and Toddler aged 15 months. The presence of this gorgeous tot did actually divert my concentration more than once, but also made me reflect ( again) on the missing tomes of philosophy, ethics, and the rest that ought to have been compiled down the centuries. I mean the tomes that consider just how little ones can be reared well, and at the same time all can be well, intellectually and socially for their rearers.

The young writer whose tot distracted me a little (in the nicest possible way, I have to note,) is talented and committed, and I wish her and her daughter well.

Manchester had a strange feel to it, for me. We lived there for 37 years, but London is now our home. Manchester Central Library, once you can get to it easily - ie all the roadworks are completed - will be a pearl in Manchester`s crown for years to come. 

I recalled some of the plays I had seen at Manchester`s Library Theatre, over our years there. 

Then, staggering a little from viral exhaustion, I reached the train for London Euston. Back home I found a grandson with a high temperature being looked after by Jeff, and remembered all the reasons why we moved in the first place. 

Tomorrow - back to my own writing. 


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