Tag Archives: Alex Brenner

Freud's Last Session

Freud’s Last Session

★★★★

King’s Head Theatre

Freud's Last Session

Freud’s Last Session

King’s Head Theatre

Reviewed – 20th January 2022

★★★★

 

“a passionate dialogue between two great minds, performed by two great actors”

 

“Do you count on your tomorrow’s? I do not” quips Dr. Sigmund Freud during the opening moments of Mark St Germain’s “Freud’s Last Session”. A BBC announcer has just echoed and crackled from the radio, detailing Hitler’s refusal to withdraw his troops from Poland. It is not the impending war, however, that gives the sense of ‘borrowed time’, but Freud’s terminal cancer that eats away at his health and his will to live.

Dr. Freud is addressing his question to C. S. Lewis who has come to visit him in his Hampstead home. It is an imaginary meeting: not improbable, but one that lets us into a riveting fantasy world to witness the conversations between two of the 20th century’s greatest academics. Lewis’s recent embrace of Christianity stands in stark contrast to Dr. Freud, whose atheist beliefs couldn’t be more different. The ensuing duel, in which words are the only ammunition, powerfully demonstrates the differences between the two men – in age, perspective and spirituality – but also how well matched they are. You can sense the mutual respect and appreciation as they each fight for their own intellectual (and in Freud’s case, literal) survival.

Crammed into the intimate back room of the King’s Head, the audience is a swarm of flies on the wall. Brad Caleb Lee’s design is part office, part practice room, juxtaposed with imagery from Freud’s mind splashed on the floor and the walls. This does not detract from the realism of the piece. Yet what essentially gives the play its authenticity is the impeccable performances from the two actors. Within minutes you forget you are in a theatre. Julian Bird, as Dr. Sigmund Freud, exudes the unseen bruises of a dying man while refusing to let his brilliant, active mind be dragged down by illness. An extraordinary performance in which every sinew is part of the role. Language and body language are inextricably married. Séan Browne’s C. S. Lewis is equally fascinating and steeped in authenticity. Arriving late for the meeting he is initially diffident and perhaps aware that he might be out of his league here. But as the couple lock horns his arguments reach higher ground. The cut glass (albeit chipped rather than clipped) English accent capture’s Lewis’s status perfectly. He has yet to write his famous works and is still finding his voice, but Browne wonderfully depicts a character who holds fast to the convictions of his beliefs.

Under Peter Darney’s direction, the script explores the beliefs of both men like a choreographed sparring match. Amid the air raid sirens, the two scholars debate religion, love, family, the existence (or non-existence) of God, the meaning of life and, of course, sex. Admittedly in an hour and a half you cannot dig too deep into the respective philosophies, but we get a pretty nutritious nutshell. “Things are only simple when we choose not to examine them”. Freud’s line is a reminder that we need to keep our attention focused. Low flying planes and radio bulletins punctuate the piece with reminders of the impending war, during which Browne betrays a shell-shocked vulnerability that adds further light and shade to Lewis’s puritanism. There is a touching, and graphic, moment when he tries to alleviate the physical pain Freud is in.

There is no real conclusion to the piece, but then again, the debate between believers and non-believers will never be resolved. Based on a passage from Dr. Armand Nicholi’s “The Question of God: C. S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud Debate God, Love, Sex, and the Meaning of Life” we come away a little more enlightened. “It is madness to think we could solve the greatest mystery of all time in one morning” says C. S. Lewis. “Freud’s Last Session” doesn’t try to solve it in an evening either. But it does offer up a passionate dialogue between two great minds, performed by two great actors. It’s not an easy text to get right but they achieve it in a very real way with performances as precise as they are natural.

 

Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Alex Brenner

 


Freud’s Last Session

King’s Head Theatre until 12th February

 

Recently reviewed at this venue:
Beowulf: An Epic Panto | ★★★★ | November 2021
Tender Napalm | ★★★★★ | October 2021

 

Click here to see our most recent reviews

 

Dumbledore is so Gay

Dumbledore is so Gay

★★½

Online

Dumbledore is so Gay

Dumbledore is so Gay

Online – Filmed at the Pleasance Theatre

Reviewed – 6th October 2021

★★½

 

“the play struggles to engage, too often feeling more like a public service announcement than a piece of theatre”

 

Remember when JK Rowling shook the world in 2007 by announcing that Dumbledore was gay? It was arguably an entirely tokenistic move, with the author failing to meaningfully mention the character’s sexuality in the seven book series she’d just completed. Nonetheless, it still displayed a small shuffle forward in representation, introducing a LGBTQ+ character into a major franchise and sparking the kinds of discussions that Dumbledore is So Gay delves into.

The play follows Jack (Alex Britt), a Harry Potter fanatic growing up gay in a culture that uses the word as an insult. He has to suffer through societally entrenched homophobia from his friends, classmates, and parents (all played by the multiroling Max Percy and Charlotte Dowding), as many young people have had to do. However, the difference is that Jack is armed with a time turner, the time-travelling necklace that Hermione uses in The Prisoner of Azkaban. In this play, Jack uses it to try to alter the timeline so that his fantasies are manifested, but has to reckon with some harsh realities.

The script, written by Robert Holtom, doesn’t feel like it ever really embraces the concept, however – the differences between the timelines feel quite unadventurous and tame. A lot of the dialogue is also very on the nose, as if Holtom doesn’t trust that the audience for this show is most likely going to be comprised of people who already subscribe to the idea that homophobia is bad. As a result, the play struggles to engage, too often feeling more like a public service announcement than a piece of theatre.

The performances, too, are a mixed bag. Britt inhabits the role of Jack excellently, but has the same intonation on a lot of his lines that makes the dialogue feel wearisome. Percy over-caricaturises most of his characters, which works initially but ultimately exacerbates the script issues. And Dowding thankfully strikes a great balance of comedy and pathos across her characters that’s fantastically engaging. Overall, it feels like a tonal misstep from director Tom Wright.

There are positives to the show: the lighting design (Rory Beaton) and sound design (Peter Wilson) are both stellar, and Darius Shu’s filming for the stream is highly professional and beautifully executed. However, these elements are building on flawed foundations – Dumbledore is So Gay feels like it entered the conversation about ten years too late for the messages it wants to share.

 

 

Reviewed by Ethan Doyle

Photography by Alex Brenner

 


Dumbledore is so Gay

Online until 18th October from dumbledoreissogay.ticketco.events

 

Other shows reviewed this year by Ethan:
Shook | ★★★★★ | Online | February 2021
In Pieces | ★★½ | Online | April 2021
Monday Night at the Apollo | ★★★½ | Apollo Theatre | May 2021
Catching Comets | ★★★★★ | Pleasance Theatre | September 2021

 

Click here to see our most recent reviews