Having grown up with a mum who reads the likes of Freud and Jung for fun and enjoyed occasionally analysing my childhood mishaps I was all too well aware of the psychoanalytical underpinnings this dynamic play presented. Having also attended a church school I was well versed in the thinking of the other great man: C.S. Lewis. I was genuinely excited to explore the clear dynamic tensions that would underlie a hypothetical meeting between Sigmund Freud (Nicholas Papademetriou) and C.S. Lewis (Yannick Lawry) as seen in this ground-breaking play, Freud’s Last Session by Mark St. Germain and performed by Clock & Spiel Productions.
The play is set in Freud’s apartment in London and is grounded in the build-up toward World War II in 1939. Freud, now in his 80s and plagued by terminal oral cancer, extends himself beyond the realm of psychoanalytical analysis to deal with deep philosophical debates surrounding the human experience. On the day World War II breaks out Freud invites the middle-aged C.S. Lewis to his London apartment to discuss why after being an atheist like Freud, he became a devout Christian. No doubt the catalyst for this was in relation to his own encroaching mortality. The dynamic between these two characters is very entertaining as Freud is staunchly dogmatic, whilst Lewis continually attempts to convince him through logic of the existence of God, winning few victories. As an audience member it felt like we are all a fly on the wall in Freud’s apartment, following tit for tat the two’s arguments.
Indeed, with such strong and distinct personalities, finding the right actors to fill their shoes must have been a challenge in of itself. Luckily in Papademetriou and Lawry they found two actors able to decode and translate these historical figures who are largely bound in their contributions and not so much their humanity. Papademetriou’s interpretation gave off a very revealing physicality that skilfully offset the dogmatic, closed-off persona of Freud. His performance brought something very special to Freud, endowing a very visceral connection between the audience and the character. Lawry’s performance is also commendable, providing a believable embodiment of the upper middle-class Lewis. However, while I found it believable, I failed to establish the same visceral connection with him as Lawry’s physicality often felt self-conscious, revealing to me shades of the actor, not the character. However, that being said I felt that there was a genuinely good synergy between the actors that reflected the dynamism of the character’s relationship.
The play was well executed. The set (courtesy of designer Tyler Ray Hawkins) made me feel intimate and cosy in the space, which is essential for the limited cast and the level of direct focus needed to get to grips with the material they were debating. The props (again Hawkins) were well utilised, notable were the radio which was well positioned to good effect and Freud’s classic chaise lounge, which was used to provide simultaneous symbolic and humorous effect. Important to note that while there were a number of set pieces and props they didn’t excessively clutter the space as they so often do.
I was fairly impressed by the script written by Mark St. Germain. It was well written and came off as witty and smart. It did an excellent job depicting Freud for all his complexities: the good, the bad, and the ugly. However, I couldn’t help thinking that Lewis was portrayed far too simply. There were no contradictions or major doubts in Lewis and therefore it was impossible not to escape the conclusion that the character was very one-dimensional. Lewis is a sounding board for Freud, which adds an element of deeper complexity to his character, but no doubt this is at the expense of Lewis’ characterisation. Otherwise, the script skilfully delves into some of the core philosophical debates pertaining toward the human experience, exacerbated by fears of mortality. Issues of love, sex, God, morality, and (more broadly) the meaning of life are discussed within the entertaining relationship dynamic between the dogmatic Freud and the more accommodating, but still orthodox, Lewis. I thoroughly enjoyed the ending which was very well executed, having dealt with Freud’s fragile humanity and encroaching death. Fundamentally, there is resolution in that despite all the debates and theorising at the core the facts of humanity are indisputable and that our various dogmas often escape the truth.
I was impressed by this production. Despite some weaknesses in the script, it felt intimate and real, with an appropriate synergy between Papademetriou and Lawry that provided a thoroughly refreshing take on the pressing debates that still very much exist in our time.