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 18 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 29 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 37 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 38 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. 

 

1 year 41 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 46 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 47 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 47 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 50 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 50 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 ....

 

 

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