Freud’s Last Session by Mark StGermain. The King’s Head Theatre, Upper Street, Islington, London to 12 February 2022. 3***. William Russell.

Fine performances by Julian Bird as Sigmund Freud and Sean Browne as C S Lewis are not enough to save this frequently tedious play about a meeting between the Christian academic and the dying psychiatrist. They do not seem ever to have met but the imagined encounter should in theory be stimulating to say the least.Lewis has come to visit the dying Freud on the day that the Second World War broke out thinking he wants to see him to discuss something he has written. But it turns into a long discussion about the existence of God. It should be compelling, deeply interesting and intellectually challenging but in fact it never quite gets the weight, the depth of argument for and against one would expect from two such fine minds and is more of a chat than anything else.
A two hander play is always difficult when it comes to achieving the right balance between the participants if it is not to turn into a one man show. Sometimes that does not matter. But here it has to be two formidable antagonists. But Browne’s Lewis never seems an opponent worthy of Freud. This has to lie with the play because he does deliver faultless support to Bird as the tortured dying man. In other words he uses what he is given. The part of Freud, who has a hideous oral cancer, is patently taxing and by the end the superb Bird was visibly drained by the demands placed on him as an actor.
The arguments about the existance of God, the meaning of life, sex and the nature of love are very convoluted and keep getting interrupted by phone calls Freud hopes are from his daughter Anna or by the radio which he keeps switching on and off to find out what is happening. There is a reason for the punctuation but the result is it leaves the audience trailing behind the battle of minds. The play need protagonists of equal weight if it is to work. In real life Freud and Lewis undoubtedly were but not as conceived StGermain in contrast for instance, to the battle between Gore Vidal and W.J. Buckley in James Graham’s Best of Enemies at the Young Vic last year. They were written as worthy opponents.
The play has been handsomely staged and director Peter Darney does find ways of avoiding it becoming simply a static battle of minds. But it is still a wearisome 80 minutes.

Julian Bird: Sigmund Freud.
Sean Browne: C>S>Lewis.

Director: Peter Darney.
Set & Costume Designer: Brad Caleb Lee.
Lighting Designer: Claire O’Donoghue.
Composer & sound Design: Sam Glossop.
Production photographs: Alex Brenner.

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