Deborah Freeman is a playwright who has written fifteen plays, almost all produced. She has published many stories and poems, and recently completed a novel: Mrs Faust. The great-granddaughter of Jewish Lithuanian immigrants in Cheetham Hill, she seeks to connect past to future through Manchester in much of her writing.
Deborah grew up in Bristol, studied Philosophy at Sheffield University, and lived in Israel before moving to Manchester in 1977. Trained as a Psychiatric Social Worker in the 1980's, she appreciates psycho-social interpretations of literature and theatre.
Her new project, with Manchester City Art Gallery and Tikshoret Theatre Company is 'Holman's Goat,' a play built around 'The Scapegoat,' by Pre-Raphaelite William Holman Hunt. Hunt journeyed six times to the Holy Land to fulfil aspirational artistic ideals. 'Holman's Goat' is about art, truth, early Christian Zionism, and two sisters. The scapegoat narrates.
Jenny her daughter
Julia her neighbour
Ian Julia`s son
Pesach = the Jewish festival of Passover, frequently coinciding with Easter.
Seder = the Eve of Passover meal, celebrated throughout the Jewish world, to commemorate the Exodus of the Jews from Egypt.
Act One Scene One
LOUISE IS IN AN ARMCHAIR EXHAUSTED BESIDE A TABLE ON WHICH A PASSOVER MEAL HAS JUST FINISHED. THERE WERE FIFTEEN PEOPLE AT THE TABLE. ON THE WHITE TABLECLOTH WE SEE A PAIR OF SILVER CANDLESTICKS, NOT WELL-POLISHED. THE TABLE IS COVERED WITH STAINS, ORANGE PEEL, THREE GLASSES. JENNY SITS AT THE TABLE. SHE WEARS AN EMBROIDERED PERUVIAN SHIRT.
Louise Was it a success, Jenny?
Jenny It was perfect.
Louise Wasn't it a miracle you got here in time.
Jenny I said to God at Kennedy airport. This evening is Pesach*. He wanted me to be here.
Louise You do seem very composed. I can see that.
Louise What are you thanking me for?
Jenny For seeing. Thank you for seeing that I seem composed.
LOUISE IGNORES JENNY AS IF TO DEMONSTRATE THAT IN FACT SHE HASN'T 'SEEN' ANYTHING YET.
Louise Until half an hour ago I had an irrational hope, that once in a lifetime, I'd make Pesach and not end up with a headache.
Jenny I always loved our Seders.* The way they used to grow. Each one bigger than the year before. Waifs and strays turning up at the last minute.
Louise INTERRUPTING. NOT LISTENING. Someone should take Julia`s chairs back.
Jenny I knew I recognised these chairs! How is Julia?
Louise Julia? Same as ever. Ian knows you're back, does he?
Jenny I wrote to him.
Jenny On the plane, flying over, I was thinking it would be nice to invite them to the Seder. Julia and Ian, I mean. For once.
Jenny I know. They didn't expect to be invited.
Louise We had fifteen people.
Jenny I know. I shouldn't have said anything.
Louise They were out, tonight.
Jenny I should have gone round to say hello.
Louise You only got here at seven o'clock. With all due respect.
Jenny I am sorry about the last two years. Not coming home.
Louise I wasn't going to bring that up. First there was your finals.
Jenny I didn't not come because of finals.
Jenny I have felt sorry ever since.
JENNY KISSES LOUISE.
Louise I don't want any more friction either, Jen. We've had enough to last us a lifetime.
Jenny For weeks I've been saying to myself: no more arguments. Louise It makes me very happy to hear you say that.
Jenny I mean it. I`ve changed.
Louise Jenny! There's something I've been planning. You see these candlesticks?
Louise They're a hundred and fifty years old.
Jenny They're beautiful.
Louise After Pesach* I'm going to give them to you.
Jenny No. Wait.
Louise You're my only daughter. They're yours.
ENTER JULIA. JULIA IS AN ENERGETIC PRESENTABLE WOMAN, A LECTURER IN ANTHROPOLOGY.
Julia Jenny! Hello! Doesn't she look a million dollars, Louise.
Louise She does indeed. Have you come for your chairs?
Julia Been a good year for you, love?
Jenny Yes Julia, a good year.
Louise Thanks for the chairs.
Julia How did it go, then?
Julia What did you have?
Julia Ah. Just like Christmas.
I`ll be going then.
JULIA PICKS UP THE CHAIRS AND STACKS THEM.
Jenny I'll help you.
Julia I can manage. I'm tougher than I look. This`ll do instead of the gym tonight.
Jenny I`ve prepared for this moment. I've planned it. Dreamed about it. Made notes on it. Cried for it. Now this is it.
Louise What are you saying?
Jenny I`ve been trying to tell you. I have to tell you - once and for all.
Jenny I've become a Christian.
UNABLE TO RESPOND, LOUISE REMOVES TWO GLASSES FROM THE TABLE AND EXITS. JENNY WAITS. LOUISE RETURNS. LOUISE TAKES THE THIRD GLASS AND ORANGE PEEL, AND EXITS AGAIN. JENNY WAITS. LOUISE RETURNS.
Louise I had a feeling about this.
Jenny A good one?
Louise Are you honestly expecting me to be overjoyed, now you finally spell it out.
Jenny No. I am expecting you to be very angry.
Louise Are you? Then I'm sorry to disappoint you. I'm more sad than angry. And I need time to think. I did have a hunch, you know.
Jenny And whenever we`ve talked about religions, you`ve said there are a million different ways.
Louise I`ve also said: this is the way we do it. O.K. So you didn't happen to like it.
Jenny I don't hate it.
Jenny I am not going to lie to you however difficult it may be. And I'm not going to fight with you.
Jenny I am still Jewish.
Louise Now that is patent rubbish. You can't be a real Jew and a real Christian, at the same time.
Jenny Yes you can. You can be a Christian, and inside that, like, like a core inside an apple..you're still a Jew. It's a question of
philosophical categories. I'll explain if you give me the time. Louise When my headache's better.
JULIA COMES BACK IN.
Julia Jen, what are you doing tomorrow? Will you be going to Synagogue? Come and have a coffee if you're not. Doesn't she look well, Louise? We've been saying for weeks, will she, won't she, get here in time?
Jenny I don't know what I'm doing tomorrow.
Louise We just need to get cleared away.
Jenny Stay, Julia. Talk to me. I want to hear how Ian is.
Louise Jen. Look at this mess.
Julia On the subject of Ian...I try to think laterally.
Jenny I'm dying to see him.
Julia He and I are opposites. It`s probably as simple as that. Also, I`m always busy, so we don`t talk. Not that he wants to.
Jenny It's the mother-son thing, that`s all. He'll grow out of it.
Louise As I was saying, I'd like to get on with the clearing-up.
Julia Meanwhile best thing of all for him is that you`re back!
JENNY PRAYS. NOBODY ELSE HEARS HER.
Jenny Dear God I came home full of the spirit of your love. And my mother is sickened by it. I see the revulsion on her face. Give me strength to love her more than ever. And Julia, Bless Julia too. She`s one of all those people I just took for granted. But now I care about them. I do. Because of your love. Make Ian happier. He grew up with no father, and no brothers and sisters. When I was fifteen I believed we'd get married. Thank you for getting me a stand-by ticket. In the name of Jesus Christ our Lord Amen.
CANDLESTICKS – CV:
1st production: Jul 1994 Manchester, Liverpool and Exeter Festival.
Dir. Chris Bridgman
Jan 2003 - Rehearsed Reading Tricycle Theatre, London.
2nd production: Dec 2005, @ Lion & Unicorn Theatre, Kentish Town.
Mirtos Productions, dir. Rebecca Atkinson-Lord.
3rd production: Feb 2006, @ Studio Theatre, RNCM, Manchester.
Dir. Helen Parry.
Feb 2006: trans. into Portuguese by Thiago Mori: “Casticais.”
Nov 2007: Pentameters Theatre London NW3
I was born in Bristol, to Jewish parents, whose orthodox, Zionist values and ideals meant our home life was like no other for miles around. On Sabbath (Saturday) lunch we sang ancient Hebrew melodies cheerfully at the dining-room table. Next thing my parents popped in next door to the Senate House of the University, where they relaxed in the Senior Common Room, perusing The Times, The Spectator, The New Statesman.
From a very young age I was aware that life was made of journeys. From a young age I knew that the journey before the one to Bristol had been to Manchester.
Manchester was where my Rabbinic great grandparents came as immigrants. Leaving Lithuania via Latvia, they sailed west down the great river from Riga, past Riga’s fish-markets. Manchester in 1885 was a thriving city of industrialisation and development - the hub of what was then the British Empire. Manchester, I learned many years later, was also where trade unions and police forces were virtually invented, atoms were split, women fought for the vote. C P Scott, Editor of the Manchester Guardian, (1872-1929) was a keen supporter of the then newish movement, political Zionism. For Scott, then, for my family then and since, that word meant/means a joyous rewriting of Jewish destiny, and hope for a peaceful future in Israel for its Jews and all its inhabitants.
I mention this because of the twist in my life story. My great grandparents settled in England, my parents built lives here, and I was born and grew up here. My parents and sisters then chose to move on - so all my family of origin became Israelis, as are all my great nieces and nephews. The most significant journey of my life has been not to travel at all. I grew up and moved on (in the way writers do) by staying here, in this country.
I came ‘back home’ to Manchester by chance in 1977. Only after I got here did I begin to realise the deep emotional and cultural significance the move had for me. The significance of this city in terms of immigration and emigration, is writ large in my consciousness, and informs my thinking almost at all times.
I include here the opening scene of my play ‘Candlesticks.’ An acerbic play about the interface between the Jewish world and the wider world written cynically but from my heart. Two women and their respective son and daughter struggle with all the issues of identity, religions and loyalty that have defined my life, in a sharp but philosophical domestic drama. ‘Candlesticks’ is set in Manchester.
The Bad Samaritan - BBC Radio Thirty Minute Theatre 1982
Fat - BBC Radio Afternoon Theatre 1994
‘Nachrichten auf dem reich der dicken’ (Fat trans.)
Westdeutscher Rundfunk Germany 2001
Bayerische Rundfunk Germany 2002
Schweitzer Radio Switzerland 2008
Productions of Theatre Plays:
The Baby - Northwest Playwrights. Contact Theatre 1983
Song of Deborah - Harriet Productions Pentameters Theatre Hampstead. 1993
Breakages - Half Measures Theatre Company. Derby 1997
Candlesticks - Two Triangles Theatre. Exeter Festival 1994
Xanthippe - Full Cry Theatre Company Brockley Jack. London. 1999
Song of Deborah - Carol Gould Productions Cockpit Theatre London 1998
Fire in the Park - Wise Monkey Theatre Company Salford 2003
Song of Deborah - L’Chaim Theatre Company. Lion & Unicorn London 2004
Candlesticks - Mirtos Productions. London Fringe. 2005
Candlesticks - Studio Theatre RNCM Manchester 2006
Candlesticks - Pentameters Theatre London 2007
Poems & Stories in:
Spare Rib, Writing Women, Iron, Lancaster Lit Fest 1984, Poetry Review, Jewish Quarterly, New Manchester Review, Stand, Jewish Quarterly, Jewish Renaissance.