Sigmund Freud sits in his London study, having fled the Nazis in Austria, listening to the announcements of the war spreading across Europe and dying. He has had mouth cancer for some time now and is in increasing pain as he edges towards death. This hasn’t stopped him from being his inflammatory self, though, and on this day, he decides to invite CS Lewis, his theological opposite, for tea.
Lewis (Yannick Lawry) and Freud (Nicholas Papademetriou) never met but both were very vocal about their opposing philosophies and disparaging of their adversaries in their work. Lewis wrote stories laced with his fierce belief in Christianity and the power of God while Freud lamented the foolery of such ridiculous lies as religion and theology. But they were men of thought and they didn’t stand down from a debate, so it can be imagined how such a meeting would take place, as Mark St Germain has with Freud’s Last Session.
The meeting occurs in Freud’s London study, furnished in keeping with his eclectic style and in homage to his favoured study left back in Vienna. The set is beautifully designed by Tyler Ray Hawkins with patterned rugs, plush velvet seats, parquet floors, and dozens of collectable knick-knacks across all surfaces. It’s exactly as one would picture the office of a busy man of books in the early half of the twentieth century. Large white lattices hanging from the ceiling indicate grand windows which overlook a peaceful garden, an imaginary landscape to contrast with the radio announcements of bombings and a war that Britain has just stepped into.
Lawry and Papademetriou are incredibly convincing as their historical figures. Papademetriou seems in real distress while navigating his prosthetic palette and Lawry plays awkward exactly as one would imagine a man who has been invited to be lambasted would be. Their long conversation covers the thrust of their differences: faith. Freud is fascinated by the religious as specimens of another time, a less educated one, and Lewis cannot conceive of a world in which Christ is not the son of God. Their rambles incapsulate sex, class, violence, and their writing careers with the ease of two men used to telling people what they think. Hailey McQueen’s direction invites the audience into the myth of the educated man perpetuated by British scholars ad nauseam as a bunch of old chaps always on the top of their game and up for a touch of friendly debate with any ol’ boy that wanders by. I say, you’ve heard this conversation a time or two before!
The pertinent question for this production is why now? When the social and political atmosphere of Australia is as it is, why are we staging the moral philosophies of two long dead men? What is the relevance in 2018 of these powerful men’s opinions?
It’s not enough to say God is a universal concern when Lewis is standing on stage saying, “History is full of monsters, and yet we survive”, and blatantly erasing the millions of people who have died and will die at the hands of monsters kept in power by men just like Lewis. It is a production out of touch with the contemporary zeitgeist to have two characters debate the truth of the Bible as the cultural centre of the world without any challenge. The framing of Freud’s Last Session as holding the crux of humanity in the opinions of two powerful men is out-dated to say the least and a real head-in-the-sand move for contemporary theatre-making.
Freud’s Last Session is running at the Seymour Centre from October 30th – November 10th