2 Fred Herbert – The play’s the thing 2

3 by Ellen Hall 3

In his big floppy “great writer’s hat” Fred Herbert has the scruffy,
frenzied look of the mad, but irresistible drama teacher who somehow
manages to get you to jump on stage and have a go.

Fred lives in a house tucked among gardens just outside the ancient
city walls of Ceret. Looking out the window Fred said,“I just let my
thoughts float out into that lovely green.” On the day of my visit exam
papers, books, newspapers and scripts vied with a box of Ceret
cherries for space on his writing table.The orange walls are covered
with photographs of his family – two adult sons from his first
marriage and two young daughters from his second – and Laurel and
Hardy.

Born near Tunbridge Wells, Fred “took up anarchism” as a youth before
moving to Brighton in 1968 where he taught in a community arts project
and wrote material for English TV. In 1992 he moved to France with
his second wife, who is French.

He started writing poems at the age of eleven, then went on to write
children’s stories. “The Teacup Terrier” , a work in progress, is a
novel for children. It is a protest against injustice at the same time
as a call to wonder about parallel universes. He has written a number
of articles for various UK publications. Dramatic influences include
Ibsen, Checkov and The Goons.

The basis of Fred’s comedy is the subversion of order and authority –
especially the adult world as seen by children. Children’s literature
has inspired much of his career, from writing to teaching to
directing plays. On books: “I am not jealous of J.K. Rowling, but…”
he prefers Philip Pullman’s sci-fi fantasies. Fred also admires
Richmal Crompton for linking the worlds of adult comedies of manners
and “raunchy kids’ adventure yarns”.

Fred’s current project was developed for a bilingual class in his
daughters’ school. Written in French, the play has been translated
into Catalan. “Espionatge” links three sketches based on Catalan
proverbs in a frame story about espionage. (In the retelling, Fred
interrupts himself to become a gun-toting baddie or an old dear
clutching her shopping bag.)The apprentice spies learn to look out for
disguises and listen for passwords. They mistake the proverbs for
secret passwords… To find out how it all turns out and to practice
your Catalan comprehension, why not attend the performance 10 June in
the Salle de L’Union of Ceret at 18h00?

On our way out Fred said, “Let me introduce the devil.” The beautiful
dark-eyed boy on a bicycle before us, Fred explained, had played the
devil in last year’s play based on the legend of Ceret’s “Pont du
Diable”. The boy’s eyes devoured his hero, seeming to say you have
showed me the magic of the stage and I will never be the same.


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