Freud’s Last Session – All it’s cracked up to be

Henri Szeps and Douglas Hansell in "Freud's Last Session"

Not a sound. Not even the tiniest of chuckles. I think the audience was completely unprepared that the very first words in “Freud’s Last Session” were, literally a joke.

Whether it was because people couldn’t quite hear it, didn’t quite pick up on it or felt a bit guilty for seeing humour in it – Dr. Sigmund Freud mocking his dog, Jofi, that is – no one laughed. But they should have and they would – with the very next line.

Honestly, wit was the last thing I expected from this production and I’m quite glad I wasn’t prepared for it, as the surprise is what made it so delightful.

To put that last comment into context, I need to quickly explain:  I’m the type of person who tries not to read reviews – musicals, plays, movies, etc. – because I really want to get the entire experience the way the producers intended. To me, coming in with pre-conceived notions, only to have them shattered, is half the fun. This of course probably makes me a marketer’s worst nightmare as 1.) I rarely read the entire advertisement and 2.) I ignore the “review quotes” because I know they are essentially bits and pieces strewn together like the clippings on a ransom note.

But, had I read through the full ad, I would have realised this was not about a psychology session, but rather a fictional conversation between Dr. Sigmund Freud and C.S. Lewis (Chronicles of Narnia).

The set is a reproduction of Freud’s library, and yes, it looks exactly what you would expect it to look like: wall-to-wall books, dark woods, big desk (yep, the jokes start here) and the requisite chaise. Additionally, a large wooden radio stands near his desk as it plays a key part in the story line: a speech from Churchill and running announcements regarding the impending bombing of London.

Like I mentioned, the first line is directed at Freud’s dog; apparently, Jofi is barking at Lewis who has come for a visit.  From the onset, Lewis anticipates a dressing-down related to his most recent publication in which he parodies the good doctor as a sex-obsessed egotist. But what Lewis didn’t expect was Freud’s veritable apathy on the matter; it seems Freud has been ridiculed throughout his career so this was of no consequence.

The wind taken from his sails, Lewis seems to pout until the two begin a robust conversation on the existence of God – Lewis, a true believer and Freud, not so much.

I’d gather that only a handful of people in the audience would be interested in this often debated topic but you can’t help but pay attention if only to appreciate the context of the jesting.

Yes, I admit I zoned out a few times, as it is 90 minutes of straight dialogue (pretty damn impressive since it runs straight through without an intermission.) But I can’t fault the writers or the actors; instead it was that “bleeping” man behind me who was snoring (do not take that as an indication of anything other than that he must have been tired) and another person who fidgeted for most of the show. Were it not for those breaks in concentration, I would have been rapt.

As for the acting, well, I don’t pretend to speak on things of which I know little about, so I prefer to just put forth my opinion. Henri Szeps seemed to be the incarnation of Dr Freud. You watched him and it was nearly impossible to tell that he was acting; it all just seemed so natural. Douglas Hansell as Lewis started off a bit rough. I couldn’t follow his lines though as I couldn’t get past the faux British accent and exaggerated projection (the kind that always sound more like yelling rather than, well, projection.)  Once he seemed to settle into his role, I admired his performance. I’m guessing (again, I’m not a professional, so just guessing) that when he found his timing, as indicated by the genuine laughter in the audience, he went into the zone (or whatever actors call it.)

All in all, I really enjoyed myself but not sure I would recommend it to every one of my friends. But that’s a good thing in that it means the production unashamedly recognizes that it has a defined market and caters to it accordingly. Now that, my friends, is actually a marketer’s dream. images-1

You’ll like this production if you:

  • enjoy witty, not silly dialogue,
  • enjoy long post-show conversations over drinks with friends,
  • genuinely like intellectual debates – and not in a pretentious way,
  • are not a fan of intermissions as you feel it breaks up the momentum, and
  • like “historical fiction.”


Freud’s Last Session is playing at Sydney Theatre Royal for a limited season from 14 August.

*As always, any errors are mine an unintentional.

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