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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4 years 36 weeks ago

The title `Know Before you Go` takes on several resonances for me. I think I`ve become over-involved in Siri Hustvedt`s novel `What I loved.` Still reading, coming to the end but not there yet - I feel I know all the people in it - as one by one they have to leave the book. Written out. But they don`t feel written. In or out.They feel real. Perhaps one reason is the depth of detail with which the author has brought to life the `oeuvres`  of character Bill. Wading (at times) through lengthy descriptions of his art installations and paintings, I said to myself more than once: why all this? Even if I lived in New York I might not have gone to these exhibitions.

But actually, Know Before you Go is the title of an event just confirmed for February 11th, at London Jewish Cultural Centre. I will be `in conversation` with art curator Julia Weiner about - among other things I imagine - `The Scapegoat and William Holman Hunt,` about whom she, I gather knows a great deal.  8.15 pm. Feb 11th. London Jewish Cultural Centre.



4 years 37 weeks ago

Currently I am still working on the script of The Scapegoat, improving, cutting, for the reading at London Jewish Museum on February 17th. Trying to work out how to record the singing, the background singing, that I think will enhance the reading. One or two groups and organizations already interested in supporting the event. After that, who knows what will become of my Scapegoat. Spoke yesterday with someone who advised on list of people to invite.   But beyond this one play, I am now making plans for the coming year. Mrs Faust is once again on my agenda. Plus the two one-act plays, and some more of the directing thing I started with in the autumn. And what am I reading? `What I loved,` by Siri Hustvedt. I started this novel on the wrong footing, got the gender of the narrator wrong, and found it muddling. I went back to the beginning, this time with the right gender in my head, and found myself reading a completely different book.

4 years 40 weeks ago

The reading of scenes from The Scapegoat at Tate Britain on Friday night went smoothly. Thanks to all involved. Firstly - Ariella Eshed, director. Normally I go through the process of putting a play together feeling extremely alone. The process of producing draft after draft of The Scapegoat has been enhanced by discussions with Ariella, who has brought some `little gem` ideas to the script. Of course we have had our blank moments, when Ariella didn`t seem to `get` what I thought I was doing. Then I had to ask myself that all-signficant question: whose responsibility is it to make sure a script is Understood? The audience`s, or the playwright`s?  Answers on a postcard please.

Actors Kevin Hand, Drew McKenzie and Neusha Milanian were great - thanks, all. Adrian Shaw, who puts together Late at Tate Britain was delightful to work with.  I loved the round-rimmed lenses of his shiny glasses, and his warm regard for everyone and everything around him. Katie, Matt, and other technical folk were utterly professional.

Best of all - instead of feeling overwhelmed by being in Tate Britain, I felt sheltered and nourished in it.  All that art, probably!

Now to prepare for the next reading. London Jewish Museum, February 17th, we will present a rehearsed reading of the full script. The first time - apart from an informal readthrough at home - the whole play will have been outed.  Already rewriting the penultimate scene....

But for  light relief, as I often do, I have gone back to fiction. On the subject of little gems, here is one. `The Wine of Solitude.`  This, one of the best translations I have read in years (by Sandra Smith,) is by the great Irene Nemirovsky. My only fear is that a book that starts with such utter artistry , drawing me in instantaneously to the French childhood of its can such a work sustain that level till its end?

4 years 41 weeks ago

A rehearsed reading is not a production. What we are presenting at Tate Britain this Friday is not a whole play. `The Scapegoat` runs along two timelines. One follows the life and ideas (researched and interpreted by me with licence) of William Holman Hunt, with a focus on his Christian Zionist beliefs. One is a contemporary tale of two Jewish sisters. Ariella Eshed and I decided to `split` the play for this reading because a) we have a time slot of less than an hour, and b) the Tate tech team will project stunning images of the paintings that figure in the play, behind the actors.   

The two halves of the whole play are tied together by contemporary character Tina, a young American, and the goat, who not only speaks, but travels through space and time. The first rehearsal was fine. The actors are Kevin Hand, Drew McKenzie, and Neusha Milanian.  Tomorrow I am back in London.

A reflection on the connection between the domestic and the theatrical.....I got an earlier train ticket so that before they arrive for the next rehearsal, I will have passed a supermarket, got lots of vegetables, prepared a healthy soup to nourish them on what will be a cold winter evening.

This is fine. My choice. But it brings to mind the years in which I spent most of my time at home holding a lively family together while Jeff was an NHS hospital paediatirician, holding the NHS together... In the earlier years when I wrote my first plays I never spent time with anyone theatrical. Simply wrote plays and sent them off in jiffybags...

Years back, I remember a group of playwrights in Manchester who set up the original Northwest Playwrights. I remember being in a pub with them, and the ambitious plans they drew up. To approach local theatres and get them to say what their policy was regarding new writing. Somehow I had got to this meeting. Tentatively I asked them if the regular meetings they talked of having in the pub could perhaps be held in my home?  I recall my request being met with glazed incomprehension. It was a long time ago. My desire to make soup brings it back to me. The world needs plays, theatre, actors, directors and playwrights. But it needs soup too.  




4 years 42 weeks ago

I am occupied currently with editing, rewriting, cutting, (as you do) The Scapegoat, for the Friday December 7th reading mentioned elsewhere on this website. A presentation of selected scenes from the play. Time - 7.00 pm. Place - Clore Auditorium, Tate Britain.  (Nearest tube - Pimlico.) Part of a `Late at Tate Britain` event. Ariella Eshed, directing, has been such a help. For 2-3 years, patiently waiting for new drafts to emerge. Some of her ideas have really shaped the play. A few have felt like water off a duck`s back - me being the duck. But  all conversations around the play have been useful to me, and therefore I hope to it. Much gratitude there.

Because of this `countdown period` to the readings, I have been reading, rather than writing. I treated myself to an outing to Waterstones. The best part of the reading at Tate Britain will be the projection, behind the actors, of the iconic paintings by William Holman Hunt that figure in the selected scenes. Imagine my surprise as I start to read my new books. One by one I find they start with, or focus on art and paintings. `A Wreath of Roses,` by Elizabeth Taylor. `What I loved,` by Siri Hustvedt.  I chose these two writers not because of art at all. I deeply regret not reading Elizabeth Taylor before. I think it was sheer unconscious, or half-conscious prejudice against the name! Now I look forward to reading more. I chose Siri Hustvedt because I had read her non-fiction book `The Shaking Woman.`  This was the sort of book I wished I`d been motivated and able to produce about my ` M E` experieces.  The icing on my reading cake was (after I slipped the Orange Prize winner into the bag..) a new ghost story by Susan Hill. Although I have low hopes for this short book, because nothing, ever, surely could be as scary as Woman in Black??

4 years 43 weeks ago

I have noted hundreds of times over the years that whenever they can, male playwrights, even the best, have a tendency to leave mothers out of the pictures they draw for us.

The beautiful production at the Almeida of Nick Dear`s new play `The Dark Earth and the Light Sky,` which I saw last night, is a case in point. Using research and great artistic intelligence, the writer and director produced a lovely and thought-provoking evening. I have always loved Thomas`s poetry.

But the biases of the play were revealed by this ommission. The play was an imaginative, research based account of who Thomas was - with scenes which also asked: why? A writer who wants to depict the psychological frailty of a character really does need to consider, in my opinion, the possible influence of the character`s mother. The only scenes that came near to being repetitive were those between Thomas and his father. We got that point very well.  A sensitive young man, the eldest of 6 brothers, must have drawn something into himself, whatever it was, from the mother who, in this play (ditto Wikipaedia - I looked) did not actually exist at all.

Also - people attending or running playwriting courses, please note! There was much  `telling` in this piece. Helen Thomas, played by Hattie Morahan, and Eleanor Farjeon, played by Pandora Colin, both `told` the audience a great deal. This technique flies in the face of the stern advice given on playwriting courses. `Show don`t tell,` is the advice we all give and have been given - but sometimes telling carries the show along beautifully!




4 years 44 weeks ago

I am currently busy dividing up The Scapegoat into portions. Not quite like a pie.  The presentation of scenes from the play at the Late at Tate Britain event (to be held at Tate Britain - did I mention?) means we have to select an hour of scenes from the full-length play. Fortunately it divides quite naturally, into scenes that follow the life, some of the pictures, and my interpretation (with artistic licence) of some of the ideas of William Holman Hunt, versus contemporary scenes set in the UK and Israel of today, which, in ways devised by myself, inform, bother or entertain the audience with `variations on the themes.` I might have mentioned the goat gets the right of reply.  Surely I must have.

Treated myself to an outing to Waterstones yesterday, for my birthday. Now that was fun. Popped in to Kendal`s sale, where I was accosted by a Rumanian man in uniform who kept trying to rub something on the middle fingernail of my right hand, to demonstrate a magic sponge he wanted me to buy. I declined politely.  He assured me my nails would stay pristine, unbreakable and shining.

Today had an interesting meeting with colleagues who, like myself, sit as Associate Hospital Managers to review the detention of psychiatric patients, detained under the Mental Health Act.  Now I don`t usually write about this topic in my blog, because of a great fear that inadvertently I might one day let slip something, however small and unintended, that might threaten patient confidentiality. But today`s meeting was not about patients, or even the heroic multi-disciplinary teams that treat them. It was the structure and design of how we have worked, and how we may or may not continue to work in the new year.  Yes. Big changes afoot, apparently. I think I feel the urge to be a whistle-blower, of sorts. The question is: what sort. Contact me if you have opinions about the work of Associate Hospital Managers. We are the panels of three, appointed by `the hospital,` wherever it may be. We review reports by doctors, nurses, care coordinators, and have to decide whether the detention of the patient is appropriate. More of this, maybe.  Perhaps.



4 years 46 weeks ago

How plays are put together, the scaffolding, the words in them - this remains, for me, the most interesting part of theatreworld. This though I know that without  stage, actors, set, director and more, the play is not yet alive.

Lighthearted Intercourse, which closed last night at the Octagon Bolton, was created by Artistic Director David Thacker from `ten drafts and a great deal of handwritten material` left by the great Lancashire playwright Bill Naughton.

As each carefully placed line, and scene, unfolded, my brain fizzed with questions. If you took twenty directors, and gave them each access to the material David Thacker used - would twenty different plays have emerged? What does the fact that the answer to that question is  `Yes` mean?

Actors David Fleeshman, Nicholas Shaw, and Fiona Hampton were excellent. The first part of the play left me slightly uneasy - the man did the talking (`Show don`t tell,` the maxim thrust at playwrights so frequently, wasn`t evident at first,) and the woman did the bit about lying in bed thinking about sex. Ectetera.

In Act Two the whole thing opened up. I got a glimpse of why Bill Naughton wrote ten drafts, but in the end never put the whole thing together.  When I say `I got a glimpse` I mean - this is what the production did for me.  Forget what Naughton, may he rest in peace, might have wanted. I saw in David Thacker`s pieced together play an attempt to do the impossible. Take ordinary lives, an identifiied location, a `small` plot, and frame them in a sense of the ultimate, the metaphysical, the unsayable. This attempt was hugely to my personal taste. I loved it.

(Friendly Assistant Director Hannah Drake made me feel nostalgic. She went to school in Bristol - just near Tyndall Avenue, where I grew up. We chatted, sharing the fact that her next play has a chicken in it, and mine a goat. )


4 years 47 weeks ago

In Jerusalem for family reasons I am enjoying the links and differences between the three books I brought with me. The Lighthouse by Alison Moore, Deborah Levy`s Swimming Home,  and finally Sweet Tooth. Ian Mcewan. I read Swimming Home on the plane, and found it so vivid it was as if I spent most of the flight sitting beside that sun-drenched swimming pool....For a book to achieve the `transporting` effect when you are in a crowded plane, noisy people shouting over the engines, there has to be something exceptional about the writing. The Lighthouse looks lovely too, and I was pleased to see Alison Moore grew up in Manchester, and is published by Salt.  But for now I am deeply ensconsed in Sweet Tooth. I googled Julie Myerson`s review, and found I agree with it entirely. And I`m only half way through. I can feel the rest is on the way. 

My own writing fades out of my life when I am in Jerusalem, and returns to me on the way home. The city is so full of contradictions. Yesterday on the light rail from town I sat inches away from two baby buggies. In one a little Jerusalem Arab child - his mother wore a hijab and chatted with her husband in Arabic. One was a little Jewish Israeli boy- his mother, with orthodox head-covering, chatted into her mobile in Hebrew. Two two year old boys, one with blue eyes, one with brown, both gorgeous, recognized each other as small beings, as opposed to the `giants` surrounding them. They stared at each other reflectively, through the whole journey.

My sister Naomi and I met with distant cousins from Canada,  Shain and Debbie Jaffe. A couple keen to meet distant relatives here, I think, rather than distant relatives anywhere else. Still. A lively evening. They brought me a gift - soap made from goatsmilk, the goats kept on a small farm they run. Soap made from goatsmilk? When I return home and to the Scapegoat script, I will consider whether a lump of goat soap might be just what the play needs!

4 years 48 weeks ago

I was in a post office yesterday.  It was freezing cold. I wore my winter jacket and a hat, but having walked all of two hundred yards in cold wind and driving rain, continued to feel chilled. I heard a child, crying, or rather whimpering at the entrance. I peered round shelving to locate him/her. I was shocked to see that this child, aged about 3, wore only a thin summer outfit with short sleeves. He/she was weeping from cold if nothing else. Suddenly a harsh voice yelled at me: `Don`t stare. Haven`t you ever seen a child crying before?` The child`s mother faced me, a face of deprivation, anger and angst that no actress on Casualty, or even Shameless, could ever feign. Not in a hundred years, not with being paid 10 times Equity rates. Almost fearful, I turned away, as did the other two people in the queue. Eventually, trembling, the child came to the mother, who picked him/her up. I left the post office believing I had seen emotional, social neglect. I got home, and felt indescribably guilty.

I phoned the postmaster who acknowledged they had all felt the same, and told me that after I`d left there had been some kind of incident. Recorded, she/he added, on CCTV.  So we called Social Services Children and Young People, but they told us that there were not enoguh identfying factors, and only the police could locate the people. So we called the police, dialling 101. A policewoman took the details. She called me back 3 hours later to say she had been to the post office, established the identity of the woman and visited the home. The child, she said, seemed all right at that time. But, she added, she did have concerns about this family, and had made a referral to Children`s Services.

Years ago, when I was a social worker, I dreamed of a government that would set up good all-day nurseries all across the country. I recalled that dream today. I hope that cold little child, and his/her suffering mother will be helped. I recalled that when I was a Mental Health Social Worker, people I worked with had previously left the arena of child care because of its unbearable stresses. I resolved to start reading PollyToynbee features through to the end again - as I once used to.  If necessary I hope the child goes into care, and can enjoy good parenting and security for ever. The voice of the damaged mother echoes: Stop staring! Have you never seen a child cry before?

Copyright © 2010 Deborah Freeman
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