Theatre Review - Freud’s Last Session

MARK St Germain’s play of ideas is set in 1939 at the beginning of the Second World War. Sigmund Freud (played by psychiatrist-turned-actor Dr Julian Bird), meets legendary author CS Lewis (Sean Browne) in the renowned psychoanalyst’s Hampstead study, imaginatively designed by Brad Caleb Lee.

Lewis, a former atheist-turned-Christian (and later to become the beloved author of The Chronicles of Narnia), had expected Freud to be angry because he had parodied him in his book The Pilgrim’s Regress. Instead, they embark on a lively debate about the existence of God and other topics encompassing love, sex, the meaning of life and even fart jokes. Really, a sceptical Freud wants to know why Lewis became a devout Christian.

Throughout, the threat of impending war and Freud’s ill-health overshadow their conversation. Running at 85 minutes without an interval, it’s an interesting enough duologue, but given the lack of tension and a tendency towards verbosity over action, I couldn’t help feeling the play might be better suited to radio.

Although their opinions clash, the only drama in St Germain’s imagined conversation comes with an unnecessary and squeamish scene involving the bloody removal of Freud’s mouth prosthesis – he’s suffering from advanced oral cancer.

The telephone interruptions in Peter Darney’s otherwise well-paced production are cued too late or too loud and this distracts from what is supposed to be an immersive and all-consuming discussion.

Freud’s Last Session was an unexpected hit Off-Broadway in 2010 and the play clearly appeals to a certain audience demographic and those who love a good debate; many were rapt on the night I went. Both actors give assured performances, but I suspect this static, cerebral drama won’t be everyone’s cup of tea.

King’s Head Theatre

Until February 12

Originally published by Islington Tribune