WRITTER: MARK ST. GERMAIN
DIRECTOR: PETER DARNEY
CAST: JULIAN BIRD; SÉAN BROWNE
RUNNING TIME 80 MINUTES, NO INTERVAL
KING’S HEAD THEATRE, LONDON N1
UNITL 13 AUGUST 2022
Left: Sean Browne. Centre: Julian Bird & Sean Browne. Right: Julian Bird
(Photos by Alex Brenner)
REVIEW by KATHLEEN BONDAR
Mark St Germain’s excellently crafted play (back by popular demand for a second run and no wonder) is pretty old school but what a refreshing change this is. It's not just the fusty consulting room in which two besuited characters - the father of psychoanalysis Sigmund Freud and the novelist C.S. Lewis (The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe) - engage in pithy interrogation whilst a telephone prop interjects with a shrill and Chamberlain announces war on the wireless. It's the whole set-up - costume, set, props, characters and lengthy dialogue to boot.
Tucked behind the salon of a bustling Islington pub, the intimacy of the space matches the confessional nature of the play based on “an imaginary conversation” between these two famous men divided by opinion and beliefs. How accurate St Germain’s accounts of Freud or Lewis are is something for further research if desired. But however he came to devise the conversation, the portrayals are fascinating from start to finish.
In the context of the play, we learn that the aged Freud has mouth cancer and Lewis is suffering from shell shock having witnessed horrendous slaughter during the previous Great War. These experiences affect the men considerably and underline their arguments as well as their reactions to the impending Second World War which raises questions about existence and death. Pinned on the polarised convictions of each man - Freud’s atheism and Lewis’s Christianity - Freud’s Last Session is an opportunity to listen in on revelatory and intimate dialogue non-stop for an hour and a half. Great stuff. The case for atheism is more compelling from the pained mouth of Freud. He really does have the best lines and retorts reminiscent of Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens with a heavy dose of humour to cushion the blow on the faithful. Lewis’s default mode - faith - comes across as plaintive in comparison, although by the end of the play his character pulls through with a great case for human compassion. Julian Bird, psychoanalyst turned actor, is perfect as the elderly, dying Freud with an irrepressible intellect and Sean Browne as a polite, troubled man of literature, is a match. To watch an absorbing play like this, performed and directed so well, is a must and heralds the film version featuring Anthony Hopkins. Fingers crossed it’s as good.