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...

Articles, Stories & Children's Fiction

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Articles, Stories & Children's Fiction.

1. My short story `Seventh Floor` is in the current double issue of the journal `Stand.` 

2. Just below you can read an article which appears in the current Quarterly Journal of the Pre-Raphaelite Society. Ed. Dr Serena Trowbridge. As I wrote it I realised how difficult it is to `account for` a play  - any play.  I imagine people who come to this website and folk who peruse the PRS Journal are not the same people, so I allowed myself the freedom to put the whole article here.  The article:=

An article written for the Pre-Raphaelite Society Review.
Ed. Dr Serena Trowbridge

Introduction   
In response to a flyer I`d circulated about my new play,  Dr Serena Trowbridge asked me for an article about the approach I took, and the research I did for it.  The play, `The Scapegoat,`  started life (2009) as a commission from Manchester Art Gallery, and has had readings in London at Tate Britain, (2012) and the Jewish Museum (2013.) It runs in two timelines -  Britain and Israel today, and Britain and the Holy Land in Victorian times. It is about art, religious Zionism, and sisters. I wrote it because of a painting.  `The Scapegoat,` by William Holman Hunt.  The goat has a speaking part, and (like art,) travels through time.
A Quote.
In his book `Power of Art,` Simon Schama tells us what art does. `Its operational procedure involves the retinal processing of information, but then throws a switch, and generates an alternative kind of vision: a dramatized kind of seeing.` 
`The Scapegoat` is my dramatized way of looking at the picture of the biblical scapegoat  painted by WiIliam Holman Hunt beside the Dead Sea, in 1854.
How did it start? 
I am a playwright. At any moment, anywhere...an experience will whisper in my ear: `Use This.` In Manchester Art Gallery, I noted, but did not attend (!) the 2009 touring exhibition of Hunt`s art. A week later I was in Jerusalem. When my sister, who lives in Israel asked: `Have you heard of the artist William Holman Hunt?` I heard the whisper again.. `And This!`  This being a connection I began to sense. Something about Hunt, his work, my life, and a new play.
I visited the house in Jerusalem Hunt built in 1876. He lived there for 2 years with his second wife Edith, and painted The Triumph of the Innocents. Mira Meshulam, the current occupant pointed to shelves filled with material about her Pre-Raphaelite hero. She took down one book and showed me a print. `The Scapegoat.` The day after I got back to Manchester I went straight to view the exhibition.

Research I did and didn`t do. 
I visited the Hunt exhibition a further three times. I read books. In the John Rylands Library I read Hunt`s handwritten letters. I recall one written by lantern light in a tent by the Dead Sea (Or was it Lake Galilee?) He wrote `The tent flap is flapping in the wind.`  In the solemn silence of John Rylands  I heard the tent flap flapping.  On a day out at the British Library I met Nicolas Tromans, whose chapter: `Palestine, Picture of Prophecy,` in the book `Holman Hunt and the Pre-Raphaelite Vision,`  confirmed for me a conceptual framework for the whole play.  
I spent two years researching. But play research is not academic research. I didn`t document when and how the knowledge came to me. When I made notes or downloaded articles, it was because a scene required accurate content.  Time spent, in bookshops, art galleries, Study Days on Hunt, libraries, was extensive. But it was not for exam or tutorial. I was the arbiter, all decisions mine. I became mother bird feeding fledgling scenes with crumbs of material. They opened greedy beaks, squawked, and swallowed them. And then of course, I spent months cutting out mountains of facts that no play should be expected to carry.
What was I looking for, with all this research? Reflections, through the stories the play needed to tell, of some of the stories I need to tell. About my life.
The issues in this play =  the approach I took.
Much of it came down to Hunt`s belief in Victorian Christian Zionism. Restorationism.  I grew up in Bristol, in a Jewish family. My parents were deeply attached to an idealistic kind of religious Zionism. Without being fanatics - they were modern, merry, clever, and kind -  they brought us up to believe that being and belonging in Israel is intrinsic to Judaism, and always has been. 
These days the term `religious Zionist` evokes the term `settler movement.` But my family of origin, who all moved to Israel in the nineteen sixties, (I was the one who returned to the UK after seven years,) challenge me to see beyond generalisations - even of eminent broadsheets. Although I hold the view that the establishment of settlements in the West Bank is wrong -  I do not see `religious Zionism` per se as the most harmful, or the only harmful ideology in the Israel/Palestine conflict. Religious Zionism, (Christian and Jewish both, I think,) expressed in many ways other than `settlement expansion` has been a strand of political Zionism from the earliest.
Seen through my subjective, dramatizing lens, the life and work of William Holman Hunt highlights two themes.  The relationship of sisters. (I am one of three. Hunt married two. After first wife Fanny died in childbirth, he married younger sister Edith.) The second - what is it to have beliefs that colour your life to such a degree that you believe this land, that land, this place, or that, this work of art or that, to be inspired directly by God? ( I myself am agnostic one day in the year, atheist the rest. I don`t believe much at all, yet my life and my writing are deeply affected by people who do.)
And the painting itself?  
In 1854 Hunt arrived with entourage at the Dead Sea, Sodom, to paint his goat. The company had the protection of the British Consul in Jerusalem, and camped alongside a Sheikh`s tent. The Sheikh`s son Suleiman watched the artist curiously, not fathoming what was happening. Then, as Hunt danced to keep warm in the cold desert wind, Suleiman realised what was going on. This artist, he announced, must be a holy man. The dancing, and all that. Hunt was invited to visit Suleiman`s father, the Sheikh. I read somewhere that the Sheikh`s daughter was offered to the artist in marriage, but Hunt declined. Next thing, the goat died. After returning to Jerusalem, (with sand and salt crystals to spread at the feet of the next model,) Hunt sent two men across the Jordan to find a second goat.  Sadly this one perished too. A third goat survived, and was given by Hunt as a gift to the children of Bishop Gobat, the Anglican Bishop of Jerusalem.  Now as for the turbulent relationship between Hunt and Bishop Gobat - that is another play altogether.
If you have questions, comments, would like to see the script, invite a reading, or support the production process, contact me through my website.
www.deborahfreeman.co.uk          
*********************

3. Some time back, my story, `The Land of Socks and Teaspoons,` interested Chris Kloet, the Children`s Fiction editor at Victor Gollancz.  She invited me out to lunch. She asked: `Could you produce another 3 books like this one?` (The marketing team, she said, would prefer a series.)  I replied: `Probably not.`  So that was that.  Worse! When asked: `Tell me what this story is really about?` I couldn`t tell her! In writing groups I argue that someone who writes a story ought to have at least a notion of what it is about.  But this story is different. It is only about what happens to missing odd socks and teaspoons! The tale has since has been turned into a ten minute play for six year olds, and performed in assembly at Tetherdown Primary School, N2, London.  Contact me if you would like more info. I will shortly insert here the first two pages of `The Land of Socks and Teaspoons.`

 

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