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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3 years 18 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 20 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 22 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 26 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. 

3 years 28 weeks ago

 

Well. So London life has taken me under its wings. So much going on. I feel pretty settled in our new home in Woodside Park. I  am revising writing plans, working well after several months of poor concentration due to The Moves. (First we moved to N2, and then from there to N12.)

My play The Committee has reached a hiatus and a new radio play seems to be writing itself. I do hope it writes itself through to the end.

For the new reading group that I initiated, I have been re-reading Rebecca with even greater pleasure than before. It is so much of its time. The class structure depicted in it almost without questioning seems as significant to me now as the romance line did thirty years ago!  I have added to my reading Sally Beauman`s lovely literary variations on the theme, `Rebecca`s Tale,`  set in 1951 but allowing a more contemporary light to shine. And if I can`t find where Margaret Fprster`s biography of Daphne du Maurier disappeared to during The Moves, will get another copy.

And theatre in London?

We saw Urinetown. A noisy and bouncy rant against the dangers of gallopping capitalism and world over-population. If only one musical (this one,) or one book (must get the Thomas Piketty,) could provide the solutions. 

Finally. Plays. Last week I saw The Believers, Bryony Lavery`s new play, co-produced by the physical theatre company, Frantic Assembly.

Two couples come together because one has been flooded. They each have a daughter. One couple, atheists/agnostics, have a disturbed daughter. The other, deep believers, have an angelic one. Was the play asking: `Does being a believer mean you can assume your children will be good/ or do the right thing?` If so, a simplistic question, and not one I would ask. I would assume, of this as of most things, `it is more complicated than that.`

Someone asked me yesterday who my favourite playwright was. Before I could answer, she said, `Ibsen, I guess?`  She was not far wrong. I have never stopped loving the playwrights who have been allowed, either by their own talent or  by the style of theatre in which they worked, to use language, language, language, to their hearts` content.  The flashing lights, contorting pieces of scaffolding that made up the set of The Believers, and the long (!)  intense silences of the characters left me intrigued by the `trompe-d’oeil`  scenes in which walls moved and the characters walked up them, but crying out for deeper and more verbal content.  Call me old-fashioned.

Last night I saw Dead at Last, At Last  No More Air. Nice to tick off another London venue - Camden People`s Theatre - and to say hello to Drew McKenzie who played the playwright Muhlstein. I surprised myself by remaining weirdly engaged by this loudly inaccessible production. In retrospect I think a deeper knowledge of late twentieth century Austrian politics and culture and of the alcoholic career of the playwright  - Werner Schwab, who only wrote when drunk and died at 35 - might have helped.  

3 years 32 weeks ago

 I`ve seen from Google Analytics, (accessible thanks to Bossco`s) that a number of regular readers of my blogs got bored waiting for something new. Certain folk, (no idea who they are,) followed my blogs regularly, but gave up when there was no blog for a few weeks. 

Well, you try moving from Manchester to London, shortly after a bereavement, and then moving again within London. Try doing that and still finding the focus to write - blogs, plays, poetry, anything.

Come back, whoever you are - whatever minuscule contribution I might be making to Blogworld is coming back to life.  And as I now know for certain that you exist - hey, why not send a comment, or even an email. I love talking to people - on screens, phones, or even in real life.

The Scapegoat has interest at a couple of great places in London, and an invitation for a production in a Hampstead fringe theatre.

I have returned several times to the one act play The Committee (aka The Scroll, aka Owen..) Need a tad more focus here but a dream sequence towards the end of the play keeps coming to me - it will presumably keep doing so until I write it down. 

An unexpected turn of events re the proposed anthology to be published by Commonword, the prose and poetry of a group of Muslim and Jewish women. `When Saira met Sarah.` Editors Sherry Ashworth and Anjum Malik who worked very hard, I think, gathering and editing their material, told us all that the material is going to be `published` in two separate ways. The poetry in a small book. (I thought we would all be in a book..) and the prose in an Ebook. I am puzzled as to why this should be. The women I met seemed a great group, and I was pleased to be part of this project. Not sure now I want to be part of a publication that is split for reasons as yet unexplained to us all.

Will wait and see...I`ve said I`ll withdraw my story unless we all get published together in One Anthology. Sorry to be doing this. Hard work went into it. I have written to Peter Kalu at Commonword whose decision I gather it was. Interesting.

And now on with the London day. Smog-ridden London maybe but the regular passing of Northern Line trains outside my study window makes me feel smug. 

 

3 years 43 weeks ago

This week I saw Women of Twilight at the White Bear Theatre in Kennington. The play was written by playwright Sylvia Rayman, in 1951, for a cast of eleven women. I sometimes find the White Bear slightly claustrophobic- this a compliment to the management, whose choice of plays has meant that most I have seen there have been extremely well attended.

Women of Twiilight? Strongly recommended. It`s about a `home` for unmarried mothers. I haven`t found much about Sylvia Rayman either on google or wikipaedia. Mainly that at the age of 28 she wrote this strong piece, which this week, sixty +  years later, was performed by a strong ensemble.

But what a surprise. The part of Viviane was played by actress Claire Amias, who played Yael in Laurence Summers` production of The Song of Deborah in 2007. And the nurse, who comes in near the end and has to tie up what the playwright couldn`t - played by Maggie Robson, who read the part of Becky in the reading of The Scapegoat - at Manchester Museum, back in the days I still lived in Manchester. Greeting and congratulating Claire and Maggie, and the rest of the excellent cast after the show was a pleasure. Best thing of all?  Women of Twilight is directed by Jonathan Rigby - now Claire Amias` husband. And how did they meet? When Jonathan Rigby came to see The Song of Deborah, invited by Sara Dee.  Without my play, they might never have met.

 

 

3 years 43 weeks ago

I`ve had some busy months - my dearest mother died at the beginning of August, and two months later we moved from Manchester to London. Since being here in London we have been flat hunting. I`ve completed a story and a poem, but returning to the honing of my novels, or working on plays has been impossible. Too many administrative tasks, too much to get used to.

I read the perfect book for distracted people - The Husband`s Secret, by Liane Moriarty.  Ignoring the fact that the praise on the back cover came from The Sun, the Sunday Mirror and Good Housekeeping - none of these Guardianreviewy enough to be mentioned in a blog...I took note of Sophie Hannah`s `literally unputdownable` commendation on the front cover. I needed something as apparently light but riddled with behavioural insights and riddles as this book turned out to be. Now I`m on to Beautiful Ruins, by Jess Walter.

But yesterday a young man, (27) by the name of Owen kindly walked into my one-act play, The Committee, and started that engine going again. Owen won`t require an actor - he`s referential, off-stage, and essential to the play. One weird idea that came to me during a conversation in Finchley three weeks ago, and hopefully a play is on the road again. The Committee, as I mentioned before, is not about a committee. Must change the title. 

Negotiations in process regarding three new London projects, too.

3 years 45 weeks ago

Finished story - Angels in Karin Edgar`s Salon, and poem - A Fact, for the anthology `When Saira met Sarah`, now being put together in Manchester by Sherry Ashworth and Anjum Malik. Reviewing and commenting on my mother`s memoirs is proving a real challenge. This process - remembering somebody I can`t begin to forget feels meaningful.  I have no idea how to do it. I`m just doing it.

I`ve seen two very different plays which I realise have something in common. Drawing the Line by Howard Brenton at Hampstead Theatre, which is in Swiss Cottage, and the Tree by Bernardo Stella, at Pentameters Theatre, in Hampstead. Both dramatised tales of real events. Howard Brenton`s play is about the drawing of the line that created the divison between India and Pakistan. Bernardo Stella`s is based on a true story of a doomed young couple in wartorn Sarajevo. Both periods of immense political and cultural violence, splendour, change, human significance.

And did I mention war, in which hundreds of thousands of people suffered and died.  

There were love affairs in both, and I like plays that contain these. In The Tree, the doomed love of a young Serbian boy and a Muslim girl. In Drawing the Line,  the love affair was between Lady Edwina Mountbatten and Jawaharlal Nehru. This really happened - I read in the programme and in reviews.  With the depth of content of both plays, the passion that should have overflowed from stage to audience should have been overwhelming, yet in both I failed to shed a tear, or even feel deeply moved. I do understand that there was profoundly moving material in both pieces, and once we`ve moved and settled, reading about Sarajevo in the nineteen nineties and the divison of India will be on my agenda. There is a clip on utube - a conversation between Martin Bell and Bernardo Stella, which I found impressive. 

3 years 48 weeks ago

 

Lots to see and do in London, even when my days are divided between estate agents` offices... Last night we attended the annual Christmas do of the Directors` Guild of Great Britain - which I joined as `playwright with an interest in directing.` It was almost too noisy to bear, but lip-reading and smiling meant communication could and did happen with a handful of interestingly mixed people. An actress, a writer/director, two documentary film directors, and finally, as we left, a theatre director.

I went to meet an old friend at the V&A yesterday, and missed him, but spent an hour circling the ground floors of the museum observing the grand pillars, and the people, which was enough for my eyes. Walking down to the cafe, where I missed the friend again twice, (I discovered when we spoke this morning,) I viewed the scupltures of Christ, Mary, various versions of sculpted Christianity, which made me think of William Holman Hunt in his Victorian London setting, and how established Anglicanism was even more prominent in cultured Britain at the time, at which he painted The Scapegoat. (Yes, that was the play I mentioned to a couple of directors.)

Today, though engulfed in a tidal wave of computer-panic - helpful Michael computer man here for hours - I prepared the final versions of my story and poem for the `When Saira met Sarah` anthology.

I have been pre-occupied, of course, with memories of my mother, and still have the urge to pick up the phone. Part of me still sees no reason why I shouldn`t do this. I have been reading her memoirs, and writing notes and `daughter-memoirs` between some of her chapters or paragraphs. I can`t decide whether an expanded, commented on memoir will be a loving if truthful way of validating `Betty Yoffey`s words and life` - or an act of  deep disloyalty, if only because even if I put little or nothing negative in what I write, I will be imposing new angles and my mother has lost not only her life, but the right of reply forever.

Copyright © 2010 Deborah Freeman
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