Freud's Last Session

David Collins and Pius McGrath in the Orchard Theatre Co production of 'Freud's Last Session'. Photo:

David Collins and Pius McGrath in the Orchard Theatre Co production of 'Freud's Last Session'. Photo:

If Sigmund Freud and C.S. Lewis were alone in a room for a few hours, what would they talk about? What would the father of psychoanalysis who thought religion “an illusion” say to the author and scholar who had turned his back on atheism?

This is the premise behind the play, Freud’s Last Session, which is made more intriguing because it cannot be confirmed if this tantalising exchange took place. Freud met a young Oxford professor in his final days but was it Lewis? It begs the question of ‘Does it matter?’ because the script by Mark St Germain depicts the incident with such eloquence and vibrancy. It is also witty without a trite Freudian cliché in sight.

The setting for the play is Freud’s study in his London home on the day England entered World War II in 1939. Director Simon Thompson's set for the Orchard Theatre Company production was suitably authentic with period furniture and personal knick-knacks. Lewis assumes he has been summoned because of his parody of the Austrian in his latest book, but Freud, frail with terminal oral cancer, wants to discuss the meaning of life.

evabirdthistle-comWhat follows is a richly imagined and deeply intellectual discussion about God, sex, pain, love and death—brought sharply into focus by the intention of Freud to end his life imminently. If there is a leitmotif, it is war. The date the drama takes place refers to a real conflict but the play is about a battle of wills and the war that rages within us, whether moral or psychological. Much is revealed about the two men but at times the attempts to pack in so much detail seemed laboured.

The play is heavy on dialogue and there are a lot of ideas to absorb but the debate is punctuated by telephone calls and the radio, which Freud switches on occasionally to check news reports. There is plenty of movement by both actors in rising, walking and squaring up. Tellingly, they both spend time on the famous couch.

Pius McGrath excels as the gruff Freud, who, despite his physical weakness, retains his intimidating personality. His pained but calculated actions and rasping voice are as convincing as the make-up aging him well beyond his years. He says Lewis’s interest in fantasy writing indicates that religion is just another fancy, that God is a father substitute and if He exists, why does he inflict so much suffering?

David Collins is charming as Lewis, answering the latter question that if God whispers to us in pleasure, there must be a reason he uses a megaphone when it comes to pain. He injects sardonic humour but is persuasive in his arguments for the existence of God, insisting that if religion can accommodate science, why can science not return the favour?

They probe and goad each other in equal measure and their chemistry produces tense and touching moments.

There is a sense of a spell being broken when they accept that they cannot spar forever. It is clear that both men have been given food for thought, as have the audience. Limerick’s Orchard Theatre Company have treated the Irish premiere of Freud’s Last Session with great respect and the result is a truly stimulating production.

Rachael Finucane is a freelance journalist and arts blogger based in Limerick.

  • Review
  • Theatre

Freud's Last Session by Mark St Germain

28 and 29 Nov, 2012

Produced by Orchard Theatre Company
In Belltable Arts Centre

Directed by Simon Thompson

Lighting Design: David O'Brien

Set/Sound Design: Simon Thompson

With: Pius McGrath and David Collins