Based on the magical “What If”, Freud’s Last Session is a thought provoking two-hander play that poses the question, “What if Sigmund Freud met C. S. Lewis?” Wouldn’t you love to be a fly on the wall in that conversation?
Playwright Mark St. Germain drew inspiration from Dr Armand M. Nicholl’s book, The Question of God, which compared the conflicting arguments of Sigmund Freud and C.S. Lewis on various topics including life, love, death, religion, and of course sex (this is Freud after all).
The hypothetical play is set in 1939, on the cusp of World War II, and a few weeks before Dr Freud (83), took his own life to beat a slow, agonising and undignified death from mouth cancer. A professed atheist, Freud invites former atheist and Catholicism convert, Lewis (in his early 40’s) to his London study. Oxford scholar Lewis (yet to write his famous Narnia chronicles), believes he has being summoned to be reproached for ridiculing Freud in a recent publication, but Freud has a deeper agenda.
In a battle of wit, logic, and egos, the two great minds respectfully debate the meaning of life amid the background of war bulletins on the radio, bombing sirens, telephone interruptions, and Freud’s painful mis-fitting dentures, which aggravates both his mouth and temper.
William Zappa as Sigmund Freud superbly navigated the physical and emotional temperament of an great man beyond reproach, while dealing with an agonising medical condition. The scene in which their professional personas instantly disappear as C.S. Lewis helps his fellow man, was humbling and the most poignant of the whole show.
It is hard to comment on characterisation having never seen C.S. Lewis, but I had to warm into Andrew Henry’s overly conservative portrayal of Lewis, which I dare say had more to do with my unfamiliarity with that type of character than the actor himself.
The more intimate seating in the Cremorne Theatre at QPAC was well suited to this chamber play set in Freud’s London study (designed by Mark Thompson), with wall-to-wall books, archaeological relics, and of course, the scene was completed by the famous psychoanalyst’s chaise longue. Frank Harlow’s audio design, along with Gavan Swift’s lighting design, and Mark Thompson’s costuming, helped set the 1930’s period for the play.
Although the production was thought provoking and an interesting concept, I couldn’t help but feel that it would be more suited to a radio play as the script was heavily dialogue based with ‘talking heads’ discussing various topics. There wasn’t a lot of present moment action propelling the story apart from a false-alarm bomb raid, intermittent radio broadcasts, and the increasing pain of Freud’s oral cancer. Director Adam Cook overcame the text-based restrictions by having the actors use the whole space with chairs scattered about to create movement and various vignettes within the one-act play.
Even though I think the script lends itself better to radio, there still is a place for this production on the stage for the simple fact that theatre has the ability to reach a different audience. Being a work of historical fiction, means that while the situation may not have happened, the characters and their backgrounds were based on fact. By seeing this production, I gained a deeper understanding and appreciation of two great figures in our history, which I never would have got otherwise, as I don’t listen to the radio nor have the time to indulge in a good read.
Presented by Strange Duck Productions, Freud’s Last Session played at QPAC from November 26 till December 7.