Freud’s Last Session
Strange Duck Productions
November 26 – December 7 2014
Reviewed by Xanthe Coward
tea or coffee?
white or red?
boys or girls?
god or no god?
jung or freud?
In each case, we generally subscribe to one or the other, don’t we?
Google paid homage to Anna Freud today. Her part in Mark St Germain’s play is minor – we never actually meet her – but her presence is felt throughout and the relationship between father and daughter is never made any clearer…
Also, I’m listening to Elizabeth Gilbert’s The Signature of All Things at the moment. I love Alma’s reassessment of the works by famed natural philosophers of the time. Her opinion of their notions seems to me to be on a par with her housekeeper’s summation of her husband; a bit of “nonsense”.
“My opinions may have changed, but not the fact that I’m right.”
― Ashleigh Brilliant
Freud’s Last Session is imagined, but the fascinating conversation might actually have taken place if C.S. Lewis had ever taken a train into London and paid a visit to Dr Sigmund Freud at his country house in Hampstead. I love hearing the sound bites (Frank Harlow) of Chamberlain’s speech and King George’s address to the British people, which place us precisely on the morning of the day before the Empire goes to war. I realise, if we are to tune into the wireless every so often as well as to what these great minds are thinking, there will be a lot to get through in a 60-minute show. And overall, the play is a scatty, hurried work, at times delving just deeply enough to challenge the most highbrow theatre goers and fancy dinner party throwers, and at other times flitting over and away from the most intriguing subject matter, coming close to missing the mark! I know! *Ducks to avoid the shots being fired because this is an internationally successful play and thus, brilliant, obviously. (Is it a writer’s ploy, to have us ponder the big questions for days afterwards rather than present them himself in any detail during the show?)
We are indeed presented with them all. Is there a god? Are we actually bisexual? Why is there war, and evil amongst men? Whatever happened to the Catholic Church? We are offered no answers. The two men share their contrasting views and we are simply challenged to consider those that are not our own. It’s a fleeting investigation when I’d expected more…well, just more.
Also, I had rather hoped for an actor in the role of C.S. Lewis to come up against William Zappa’s Freud with all of his might and intellect and imagination, but Andrew Henry has given us a young, wide-eyed character half-baked, which can’t be an accurate portrayal/imagining because C.S. LEWIS Y’ALL. ALREADY ON THE UP AND UP. He has some wonderful moments of intent listening and instantaneous responding, but the moments are few and far between. We believe him when he describes the horror of the battlefield, though why he moves to centre stage to deliver the monologue out front, one can only ponder later, (oh yes, we imagine there’s a lovely garden out front, sure, okay) and also, earlier in the piece for a brief moment when he speaks about running ahead, as a child in the woods, away from his father. The performance lacks a little imagination, that’s all. and I don’t warm to him. At all. Ever. Sorry. Really. I feel bad because he’s simply miscast.
Zappa, on the other hand, presents a masterclass in character and nuance, bringing the bonus quality of innate confidence to the stage, not only as a character trait but also, as an unmistakable quality of the seasoned actor. Zappa IS Freud and I watch his every move. He’s powerful and intimidating in his convictions and vulnerable, desperate and decidedly weary in his pain.
The conversation leaves much unsaid and I wonder how differently a play in two acts, perhaps with the distraction of a third character, might play out. You see, I can’t help but imagine there would have been a maid to make the tea…well, there would have been!
Anyway, attention to detail is perhaps not Adam Cook’s strongest point. Oh, I know! He’s done so much! But I haven’t seen it. (I wish I’d seen The Motherf*cker With the Hat!). As director of this production, might he not have felt obliged to consider the continuation of a dog barking, when once we have heard said dog’s bark, and subsequent reference to it? Surely a siren, signalling the planes overhead and evoking a frenzied panic in the actors would bring about some howling or barking, however; we hear nothing and see neither concern from Freud, or curiousity from Lewis. All I can think about for several moments (at several points throughout the play), is “Where the hell is the dog?!” Had the dog not been spoken about I might not have mentioned it here but the playwright makes a great deal of the dog, with Freud espousing its psychoanalytical talents and its penchant for standing by Freud rather than lounging by the patient if a patient appeared suspect…
Mark Thompson’s detailed set, which is an authentic replica of Freud’s study in Hampstead (The Freud Museum), is superb and supported by warm, cosy lighting (Gavan Swift). It’s so cosy a scene, complete with the famous couch, that we almost feel as if we’re in the room with the gentlemen but alas, they appear eager to get out into the sunshine or something and we gallop along through what would, in real life, take an entire impromptu poker night to address.
It’s a slightly awkward end, despite being obviously The End, and the audience sit for perhaps a moment longer than usual before applauding. They’re thinking. You can hear them thinking. After the curtain call, Mum and I join a terrific conversation with a Matilda Committe mate outside the Cremorne before continuing to debate the merits of the show and the workings of the universe during the drive home. We don’t yet solve the problems of the world, and nor do we answer the big questions, but we are each assured that what we believe in is enough for now. Well, aren’t we? At least we can keep the debate raging conversation going. (Christmas dinner, after all, is really just DAYS AWAY!). And Freud’s Last Session must finish on Sunday. See it if you can – it’s food for thought and surely Zappa at his best.