Freud’s Last Session directed by Peter Darney is an Off-Broadway success combining philosophical thought with comedy. As its foreboding title suggests, the play imagines Sigmund Freud’s final psychoanalysis session. He invites C.S. Lewis to meet him, to help him make sense of something that disturbs him. A debate ensues between the two, as they grapple with an age-old question; the existence of God. The eagerness and receptivity of the characters carries the arguments through with an aliveness, keeping it engaging as well as educational.
Séan Browne brings C.S. Lewis’ character to life, endowing him with an earnestness and a stark vocal resemblance to Lewis himself. He enters Freud’s room as a visitor, polite and reserved with a kind of reverence for Freud but as the play progresses, Lewis gains momentum with a vitality as he attacks and defends his argument.
Julian Bird’s Freud is fascinating to watch, an air of quiet eccentricity following him as he hobbles across the stage. His discerning eyes, sharp with an icy, analytical glint in them are captivating, conveying Freud’s cynicism and intellectual rigour. His sporadic bursts of anger are unsettling and serve as a reminder that their debate is not merely theoretical but personal as well.
Both actors gave brilliant performances. There was a visceral intellectual spark between the two and the fact that their characters were real people made it easy to get engrossed in the story.
The play ends on an inconclusive note as the lights fade out on an elusive-looking Freud. This ambiguity may have been to purposefully leave the audience in doubt as to what Freud was thinking in his final days or it could be interpreted as an overwhelming awareness of his near death.
However, I think seeing a more discernible change in Freud, or a greater sense of what his thoughts were towards the end of the play, whether he was starting to doubt his beliefs or whether he was fully resolved and unchanged in his thoughts would have been a more satisfying ending.
The set designed by Brad Caleb-Lee was mostly naturalistic with hints of surrealism through the fabric with painted clouds and Dali-esque features. This aspect gave the play a dream-like quality, detached from reality as if they were in their own separate bubble, mirroring the theoretical nature of their debate. With nuggets of autobiographical references throughout, it blurred the lines between illusion and reality even more.
The play was wonderfully thought-provoking. I would particularly recommend it to anyone with a love for philosophy, psychology or an interest in the big questions.
Playing until 12th February 2022, https://kingsheadtheatre.com/whats-on/freuds-last-session
Reviewer: Riana Howarth
Reviewed: 20th January 2022
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★