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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1 year 32 weeks ago

Almost missed getting there last night. Building and roadworks around Waterloo - reminding me of the magnitude of the sprawling metropolis, London, we now call home. 

Places I lived in previously were easier to negotiate. Bristol, Sheffield, Leeds, Ashkelon, Manchester. But one odd thing. We predicted that once we lived in London we would no longer bump into people we knew at plays, concerts or exhibitions. The opposite has turned out to be true.

I spoke to a woman putting her hat on after Evening at the Talkhouse, without realising (neither did she - I had a winter hat on as well) we had already met elsewhere. 

I knew nothing about Wallace Shawn and his work, and was at first confused, then intrigued, then thoughtful about the play.

I have met (and read about) theatre folk who have ideals, sometimes (dare I say this) a little ill-informed. Often passionately felt. And of course there are popular causes, things people support simply because others like them do the same. 

But many of these people take for granted their right to (for example, not based on anyone I have ever known,) inherit wealth that might have been acquired who knows how; to work on switchboards for cartels or empires that are not the best examples of ethical capitalism. Ectetera. Pushing the boundaries of what actors are prepared to do to make a living between jobs, and surveying the egocentric personalities of some theatre people - by the end I was curious. Telling us how cruel immoral and politically evil our countries all are....Big issues.  Unfortunately I was a little more curious to think about the issues in the play, than I was to follow any of the characters home. 

My own work...currently reworking Chapter 14 of Mrs Faust - the pivotal change that needs to be made. Reading a beautiful book. Outine by Rachel Cusk. As it says in a blurb piece, the book appears to break all the rules. Must copy a page or two to share at a writing workshop in Manchester shortly....

Also - agreed to appear along with other Highgate Poets, reading a few poems. March 13th. The Torriano Meeting House. 

1 year 37 weeks ago

Christmas and New Year week brimful of interest. First, we attended a couple of days of Limmud, which is a kind of Edinburgh Festival of Jewish culture, open to all, (you don`t have to be Jewish..) held this year in Birmingham. I found it crowded and noisy, but as on previous visits, enjoyed one or two gems of sessions. A session run by the young academic/poet Aviva Dautch on the great Eva Hoffman was a delight, and a session on Writing Memoirs by Hoffman herself even more so. Like many of my favourite books, Lost in Translation was long ago `lent ` to someone, so: replacing it forthwith. A London writer/director Rachel Creeger presented a new play about Jewish women and the Mikvah - the ritual bath - which I was sorry to miss. For years I sketched and resketched ideas for a radio play set in a Mikvah - the most intense and heightened scenes of which would of course have taken place under water. Good luck to the new play. 

Back to London for another huge gem - which made me, once more, ponder differences between memoir, novel, and play. Yesterday I saw The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night, play by Simon Stephens, book by Mark Haddon. What a tour de force of theatre this was, and (am I biased?) much as I found the book thought-provoking and interesting, I felt that theatre won. In the play Simon Stephens was able to alert us to the emotional journeys, feelings and dramas of the characters around protagonist Christopher`s struggles and adventures. As for the `tech`side. I agreed with accompanying grandsons that we didn`t just imagine there was an underground train thundering past - we actually KNEW there was one. 

On the quieter side, I will attend my second meeting of Highgate Poets, this Sunday. Selecting one of the ten new poems I have drafted since move to London.

So much to think about, read, write and appreciate in the coming year! Happy New Year to all. 

1 year 38 weeks ago

Watched final episode of Downton Abbey last night. I read some time back that actress Elizabeth McGovern was interviewed and appeared almost lukewarm about her role in the Downton phenomenon. The final episode, as so many previous episodes, left what was for me a gaping hole in the structure put together with great commitment and creativity by Julian Fellowes and production team.

In any real family, the mother of three, then two (after Sybil`s demise) would engage in many conversations with those daughters. I have not watched every single episode, but in almost every exchange I did see of `Downton daughter dialoguing with parent,` it was chiefly Lord Grantham, played by Hugh Bonneville, whose wisdom and understanding was sought, found, and revealed to viewers in well-written scenes. 

Where on earth were the parts of the scripts which should have explored the relationships between these daughters and their American-born mother?

A genuine field of vision problem, I am afraid. 

 

1 year 38 weeks ago

To the followers of this website who celebrate Christmas, good wishes to you. To others, apologies for another long gap. I have been working on Remedies, and reading, s.l.o.w.l.y, a beautiful book called The Forgiven by Lawrence Osborne. Torn between turning the pages fast to explore what came next, and turning them slowly (slow won,) because every page read brought me closer to the inexorable end.

(Which, I have to say, was not what I had expected.)

A few years ago I went on a trip to Morocco, which included a 3 day ride across the Atlas Mountains, which itself incorporated a stop or two at shops that sold various fossils and stones from around..

Reading The Forgiven took me far more deeply into those high dry mountains. The lush language utterly convinced me of the realities behind the words. I breathed in sand when the winds blew over the desert, and promise whoever is reading this that as a result there were real grains that I felt crunch between my teeth.

Lawrence Osborne, I read, has been a travel writer and a literary nomad. Wikipaedia and other sources place him simultaneously in New York and Bangkok at present. Personally I don`t care where he is as long he writes another book like The Forgiven.

On to Christmas and New Year....Best to all. 

 

 

 

1 year 41 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. 

1 year 42 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...

..to be continued ....

 

 

1 year 42 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....

 

1 year 43 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. `

1 year 48 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....

1 year 50 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….

 

 

 

 

 

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