There is some truly marvellous acting in this detailed and precise production.
Yannick Lawry and Nicholas Papademetriou in Freud’s Last Session.
If this play is judged by the name only, a potential ticket buyer might have subconscious expectations of density and wordiness. Nothing could be further from what Freud’s Last Session delivers. Written by Mark St Germain, the play imagines a meeting between C. S Lewis and Sigmund Freud in the latter’s London home, 1939, as, on the radio, Chamberlain declares war on Germany. With theology as the provocation of the meeting and a gentlemanly commitment to rational debate on both sides, the men will spend time in a super-ego mediation. The solidity of Lewis’ Christian conversion entrenched against Freud’s belief in science over religion, with the socio-political implications of an impending war as background.
There is some truly marvellous acting in this detailed and precise production. The subtext of every moment between the two characters is available to the audience from their first meeting where both are initially watchful. Freud overcompensates by being charming and witty to Lewis’ polite and wary. These are men who know, passionately, what they believe and are prepared to defend it, discuss it and be overtly concerned that their proselytizing is ineffectual.
As Lewis, Yannick Lawry is upright and soft spoken. He has an Englishman’s lapel pulling stance and a clever use of gesture, especially to travel an idea across the footlights. His emotions are manifest, repressed in places and gently expleted in others. His sadness at Freud’s passionate attack on Jesus is heartbreakingly evident. It’s a very moving and telling moment. After all, Lewis will lionise modern Christian thinking and Freud will be lost when overtaken by a pop culture collective irrelevance.
Nicholas Papademetriou endows this older, dying Freud with weakness and frustration at his lack of time. His command of the physical aspects of the illness, voice and body, are realistically rendered without being distracting. His Freud is several men in one here. When Freud sees the chance for analysis in the other’s speaking, he listens with an intensity and focus that is as enthralling as the ideas. When peevish and harsh, the arrogance of the feted makes an appearance and when he deigns to be warm, it is genuine and touched with past joys.
Nicholas Papademetriou and Yannick Lawry in Freud’s Last Session.
It’s a shiningly intelligent text, never dense or wordy, and director Hailey McQueen has smoothly guided her cast over the emotional topography with clarity and a certain free association in the movement. There’s also a clear understanding of how the many light moments release the audience and where the tension of the men’s first meeting recurs. She also effectively allows her cast to explore where empathy and self-absorption meet in a skilful balance of the personal and the philosophical.
The styling of this production is wonderful, with an attention to detail that is museum quality, including the famous analytic furniture piece, which is as perfectly recreated as the rest of the physical space. The lighting is an effective classic wash of amber and steel with almost no cues thereby enriching the stability of the setting. Yet the audio has an effective complexity in the use of bass and volume, allied with speaker allocation, which subtly triggers the desired responses within the audience. The costuming, from the crispness of the white of Freud’s shirt against his black coat to the slightly splashy, bachelor gay, buttons on Lewis’ waistcoat, adds to the historical verisimilitude.
But Freud’s Last Session is far from a stuffy historical offering. One man’s belief is another man’s neurosis and sides will be taken as it is the audience who are on the couch in this fascinating, entertaining fantasy scenario.
4 ½ stars ★★★★☆
Freud’s Last Session
Clock and Spiel Productions
FREUD: Nicholas Papademetriou
C.S. LEWIS: Yannick Lawry
Director: Hailey McQueen
Assistant Director and Stage Manager: Georgiane Deal
Production Design: Tyler Ray Hawkins
Lighting Design: Emma Lockhart-Wilson
Sound Design: Adam Jones