Theatre Royal is one of Sydney’s more beautiful theatres, usually showcasing large scale theatrical and musical productions due to its stage size and audience capacity. With just two actors and no scenic changes, Freud’s Last Session comes to Royal with extraordinary confidence. Mark Thompson’s set design is elegant, charming and effective, carefully carving out a perfectly sized performance space out of a very vast stage. It is, however, unfortunate that less attention is paid to acoustics resulting in poor volume levels for seats further back. The actors do not appear to be assisted by microphones, which is peculiar and fairly disappointing.
Henri Szeps is endearing as Sigmund Freud in his final days. His outlandish and controversial statements are presented with conviction and humour by Szeps, who presents to the audience a Freud who is unexpectedly affable. His masterful physical depiction of a feisty old man suffering from cancer is a joyful vision of experience and skill. Douglas Hansell is meticulous and detailed in his portrayal of C.S. Lewis. He delivers to the audience a sense of what London must have been like in the 1930s. Through his performance, we experience a time and place that is at once amusing and magical. The actors work well together, with a comfortable chemistry and excellent timing as a result of thorough familiarity with the material.
This is not a play with hugely dramatic moments that manipulates your emotions but its themes of religion and death are eternally fascinating, and they are dealt with with maturity, creativity and intellect. The characters see themselves as polar opposites, an atheist and a Christian, and argue engagingly about the differences in their belief systems and moralities. The play appeals to our human need to understand the afterlife and to question the existence of God, and it addresses the constant tension that resides between every point of view. Its conclusion is surprisingly universal and strangely satisfying.