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 39 weeks ago

Although I have worked with some excellent actors and directors in recent years, it has not yet been my lot to have the `admin` surrounding readings and productions taken completely out of my hands by agents or producers. (Actually, the one production I once had with a committed producer involved me in a great deal of work.)

So currently I have been occupied with a certain amount of involvement in the forthcoming reading of The Scapegoat. (Sunday Feb 17th  2.30 pm. London Jewish Museum. Tickets 020 7284 7384.) Also, for some reason, the hearings I do, (reviewing the detention of patients held under the Mental Health Act) have been filling my days. So I haven`t been concentrating on new work.

Instead I have been reading. Latest book - The Song of Achilles. Madeline Miller. It won the Orange Prize last year. It reads like an antique clock with engraved silver surrounds. The words woven skilfully, as familiar as silver (The word I didn`t know? Yare. Of a boat. Answering swiftly to the helm.) But incredibly subtle craftsmanship. All designed around something as basic as time itself; or, to return from metaphor to book, built around the Iliad, and its tale of Achilles and Patroclus.

I might have felt under-involved - on the grounds that I not studied the Iliad and the Odyssey closely, and was not up to the background material; or - more significantly, on the grounds that I don`t believe in Greek gods.  But then, only today, I saw on the news that a meteorite struck the Russian city of Chelyabinsk (where, astonishingly, we have friends,) and suddenly the awe in which ancient Greeks, Madeline Miller, the people woken this morning by flash bang thud tremor..suddenly we were all one. One random sample of humanity overwhelmed by the reality of the world and its heavens.   Not sure what to read next.   See you on Sunday at the Museum!

4 years 41 weeks ago

The cast for the forthcoming reading of The Scapegoat at London Jewish Museum:  Stephen Connery-Brown, Kate Cook, Ruth Lass, Drew McKenzie, Neusha Milanian.  The day: Sunday February 17th. The auditorium seats 100. Bookings are going well.To be certain of getting in, the museum suggests you book in advance. Call - 020 7284 7384.

I have offered to give a talk to groups. One or two already coming. The talk is not about the play itself - but about the fascinating three years of research that accompanied it. I spent time in the John Rylands Library, reading handwritten original letters written by William Holman Hunt. So evocative. One in particiular sticks in my mind. He was, I think, in a tent by the Dead Sea, writing to whoever it was by the light of a candle. I read: `As I write this the canvas is flapping in the wind.`  I was there, at that moment.

New work? I am preparing a book proposal for a book on a particular area of Mental Health. And when space clears in my brain - it`s back to new stories, and my two one act plays. Mental Health Act. And The Committee.  Did I mention that that one is not about a committee?

4 years 41 weeks ago

Off to London for the first rehearsal of The Scapegoat, prior to the reading at London Jewish Museum, Feb 17th.  As soon as I have the full names of all the actors, I`ll put them here. Meanwhile I`ve made cuts and changes to the script, which were necessary.

Seats selling nicely at the Museum.  I`ll put a final estimate here next week, just in case anyone gets left out.

I recall years ago...my delight that a production of `Candlesticks` at the Studio Theatre of the Royal Northern College of Music, was so full that they had had to turn someone away. Then to my horror I discovered the person turned away was an actors` agent. Was this tale true, I wonder? I was certainly told it.

4 years 43 weeks ago

An interesting week in Jerusalem. I visited the Anglican School, in Rechov Hanevi`im, Street of the Prophets, just down the road from the house William Holman Hunt built in 1876. Designed by the same architect. Schick.  The building originally housed the Church`s Mission to the Jews, and Hunt`s foe Bishop Gobat ruled over it.

In a brief hour there I met several fascinating people, read The Lord`s Prayer in the hall - in Hebrew - and discussed adapting The Land of Socks and Teaspoons for classes of Jerusalem children, of every denomination and creed. Great fun.

Land of S`s and T`s is still in planning stages. More certain is that Judith Litoff, head of music at the school, will be singing our song The Olive Tree, at this April`s Jerusalem symposium of the international  forum for green pilgrimages.

From tomorrow, back in Manchester preparing for the reading of The Scapegoat, at London Jewish Museum, on Feb 17th.  On Feb 11th I am `in conversation` about the play with Julia Weiner, Art critic and historian, at London Jewish Cultural Centre, at 8.15. Looking forward to that.

4 years 45 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 46 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 49 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 protagonist...how can such a work sustain that level till its end?

4 years 50 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 51 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 51 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!

 

 

 

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