Review: Freud’s Last Session (Clock & Spiel Productions)

Venue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Oct 30 – Nov 10, 2018
Playwright: Mark St. Germain
Director: Hailey McQueen
Cast: Yannick Lawry, Nicholas Papademetriou
Images by Alison Lee Rubie

Theatre review
Two men, one atheist and one Christian have an intelligent, and civilised, discussion about the existence of God, in Mark St. Germain’s Freud’s Last Session. A fictional account of Sigmund Freud, approaching the end of life, inviting C.S. Lewis in for a meeting, presumably to help allay inevitable fears of impending death. Everything they talk about is relevant, even fundamental to our very being, but these are ideas we have tossed around in our minds many times, with decisions settled for each individual years ago. Some might be able to see new light on old questions and find the play intellectually stimulating, but for most, the best it can offer is an opportunity to hear the other side of arguments, within its stringently binary presentation of truths.

It is a polished production, with Hailey McQueen’s direction giving the theological themes an elegant and balanced focus. Tyler Ray Hawkins’ work on set decoration is noteworthy for its visual flair, cleverly manufacturing a sense of vibrant theatricality whilst maintaining realism in Freud’s office. Both actors deliver solid performances, with Nicholas Papademetriou particularly convincing as the ailing psychoanalyst, accurate in his portrayal of a legendary figure in his last days, but in a manner that is charmingly playful, to have us engaged and entertained. Lewis is played by Yannick Lawry, appropriately uptight, with an energetic presence that keeps things lively for his audience.

Life is mysterious, so there is no surprise that we often respond by embracing ideas that pertain to the supernatural. Science is in the business of demystification, but our nature seems not to permit an end to human interrogations; for every answer we discover, further questions will arise. The world is determined to be unknowable, yet we desire only to thrive on certainty. God may or may not exist, but if we agree that our time on earth is real, it should then follow that our emphasis must always be concerned with the here and now. The truth however is that, whatever we think is holy up above, has served to divide us. We see ourselves doing unspeakably cruel things to one another in the name of God, yet are unable to disown religious doctrines, refusing to acknowledge the harm that it can cause. The world has never been without Gods, so to imagine ourselves as entirely secular, although an appealing idea, is probably futile. The next best thing would be to trust that each of us can learn to be better persons with each passing day, no matter how ridiculous our personal beliefs.

www.clockandspielproductions.com

5 Questions with Yannick Lawry and Nicholas Papademetriou

Yannick Lawry

Nicholas Papademetriou: How confident would C S be today in a theological debate?
Yannick Lawry: I reckon Jack (apparently he hated the name Clive and used the name Jack all his life!) would have a decent answer for most theological questions. Even in our age of ‘hyper enlightenment’. The thing I’m less sure about is how he’d cope with debating in an age where it’s so easy to offend and apologies are rarely accepted..

If Lewis could date any modern celebrity of today who would it be and why?
In the context of Freud’s Last Session, Freud suggests Lewis was attracted to older, virtuous women after losing his mother at a young age. His wife, Joy Davidman, was an American poet and – like Lewis – converted to Christianity later in life. So a mature, devout, artistically minded woman from the other side of the Pacific. Unlikely to be anyone we know from the pages of OK! magazine!

What are you enjoying most as an actor about working on this production?
Our rehearsal process is somewhat intense. I’ve never had to work so hard to make using archaic props like pocket watches, gas masks and transistor radios look quite so natural, and I’m loving watching Nico as a master of character acting bring life and depth to Freud.

If Lewis actually met God what’s the first thing you think he would he ask him?
“Why this great test of life on earth before the great reward of heaven?”

Are you finding the play is making you question any of your own beliefs or theories?
Yes. Outing myself as a believer here, Freud’s arguments about theologians hiding behind their ignorance and creating a God-of-the-gaps where their explanations run dry still rings true in 2018, and has been one of my biggest difficulties with faith. Though I’ve equally enjoyed learning and absorbing Lewis’s many rational arguments for faith in the God of the Bible. Between Freud and Lewis on stage, I still don’t know who wins the argument in the show. Maybe we should give our audiences a scorecard each night!

Nicholas Papademetriou

Yannick Lawry: You’re playing Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalyis. To what extend does Freud’s Last Session portray him as the definition of sanity?
Nicholas Papademetriou: I think in today’s world he’ll come across as an eccentric but intelligent cuckoo. Although perhaps he was perceived as that in his day as well. He’s a combination of nerd, grumpy old man and nutty German psychoanalyst so he may not seem entirely sane, but he’s slightly insane in a good way.

What’s the most controversial thing Freud says or does in the show?
I suppose the most controversial thing he says is his comment about people’s sexuality – for the time, he was quite sensational. His open acceptance would have made him an absolute darling of the LGBTI community.

What’s the most controversial thing you’ve said or done personally (that you’re comfortable sharing with me)?
I have done and said so many controversial things in my life, the list would be far too long to list here (including being a stand-in for a hooker one night). But is that controversial or sensational? Or just plain stupid?

Theatre is a dying art, apparently. What do you reckon is ‘in’ theatre, both for audiences and artists?
I think theatre that is unpretentious, entertaining and easy to connect with is what really makes it for me. If symbolism, plot, message or themes need to be explained to me, then that is what would make theatre a dying art for me. Freud’s Last Session is definitely in!

Fart jokes, or highbrow humour?
I like my fart jokes to be highbrow. And my highbrow to be like dainty farts.

Yannick Lawry and Nicholas Papademetriou can be seen in Freud’s Last Session by Mark St. Germain.
Dates: 29 October – 10 November, 2018
Venue: Seymour Centre

Review: The Screwtape Letters (Clock & Spiel Productions)

clockspielVenue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Nov 22 – Dec 10, 2016
Playwright: C.S. Lewis (adapted by Hailey McQueen)
Director: Hailey McQueen
Cast: Yannick Lawry, George Zhao
Image by John Leung

Theatre review
Based on the novel by C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters follows the correspondences of senior demon, Screwtape, as he mentors his nephew Wormwood, who is learning the ropes of the devil’s business from his evil uncle. There is a “patient” in question, a case study if you will, and the heat is on, to lead him to temptation, and away from God. Contrary to popular belief that immorality is easy, the troublemakers have a difficult time, and we are challenged by notions of good and evil as they relate to our impulses and tendencies.

Having been adapted directly from Lewis’ writing, the play demonstrates that the efficacy of words is reliant on the context within which they are presented. At the theatre, we are not able to glance back at previous sentences, or look away to let meanings merge with imagination at a pace of the reader’s choosing. Words that had been designed for one purpose, might not necessarily translate conveniently for another, and in The Screwtape Letters, the challenge of adapting a novel for the stage, is bravely taken on by Hailey McQueen who also doubles as director. Although unable to repurpose the text entirely satisfactorily, McQueen delivers a charming show that holds appeal for those of us with a wicked streak .

It is a beautifully designed production, with Isabella Andronos’ set and costumes providing appropriate sharpness of style to Screwtape’s world of decadent luxury. Chris Page’s elegant lighting helps us move through scene transitions effectively, and his careful calibration of mood changes keeps us visually fascinated. Music and sound design by Adam Jones is very impressive. Much of how the audience responds and what it feels for The Screwtape Letters is controlled by Jones, who significantly elevates this theatrical experience with admirable precision and creativity. Actors Yannick Lawry and George Zhao are a well-rehearsed duo that puts on a presentation with professional polish. Zhao’s comic physical inventiveness is especially memorable. The two men are warm, likeable personalities, but we wish to see something much darker and menacing. We want the fiction to take us to a place unthinkably taboo, somewhere so close to hell that we can only react with the extremities of either being frightened away or helplessly seduced in, but Screwtape seems too much of a gentleman to afford us that pleasure.

www.clockandspielproductions.com

5 Questions with Yannick Lawry and George Zhao

Yannick Lawry

Yannick Lawry

George Zhao: Sum up the character of Screwtape in 5 words or less.
Yannick Lawry: Mad, bad, dangerous to know…

CS Lewis doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to saying what he believes about the world. Playing the character of Screwtape, what is the most confronting thing you say in your personal opinion?
I think one idea Lewis presents is that we, as human beings, are not the ones in ultimate control or our circumstances. That’s massively confronting to many of us (me included!) One line that makes me think every time I utter it is when Screwtape talks about a ‘patient’ he recently captured by distracting him all the time and the patient’s words as he arrive in Screwtape’s kingdom are: “I now see that I spent most of my life doing neither what I ought nor what I liked”. A line that often comes into my head when I’m mindlessly flicking through the news feed on my phone..

You have about 75 mins of dialogue to learn for this show. How on earth did you manage that?
Um.. well, I don’t mind the sound of my own voice so I record each letter and listen to it back again and again until it sticks. Fortunately, Lewis’s train of thoughts and arguments follow nice, logical lines so they’re easy to map out and don’t take too long to sink in!

You’ve done a heap of theatre in London and Sydney but if you could replay any of your past performances which one would it be?
One of the first roles I played in London was Hamlet. He’s such an existentially-challenged brat; but I love the journey he goes on and the range he gives an actor to play in. Being in my late-30s, I probably need to get onto it quickly if I want to give him another shot!

It’s my round, what are you drinking?
If it’s cocktail hour and your budget will stretch to it, a Negroni. Otherwise a VB is just fine, thanks!

George Zhao

George Zhao

Yannick Lawry: Sum up your show, The Screwtape Letters, for us in 5 words or less!
George Zhao: Who’s pulling the strings, then?

What are the habits of a successful actor in your opinion?
Good question! In my humble opinion, they are:
– Knowing what success means to you personally and striving to achieve it.
– Constantly improving on your skill sets and on yourself.
– Allowing yourself time to rest .
– Most importantly, you need to genuinely love to those around you. I really can’t stress enough how much of an impact that has on people!

In The Screwtape Letters, you play a demon and the human “patient” – how do you separate out the two characters when playing them so close together?
I like to flow into the characters via physicality, once i move into the character a certain way, the voice, objectives and history of that character follow.

So, you recently filmed the second season of the awesome SBS series The Family Law – any gems from behind the scenes that you can share with us?
I’m actually still in the process of filming it while I write this! I’ve been incredibly blessed to work with all the people on this production, they are all incredibly loving and willing to help those around them without a second thought, and the catering is AMAZING! As the cast, we have this set of dances which are hilarious when we all do them together. I started a dance in front of the camera during a break in the scene last week, being silly and whatnot, and as I turned around i saw that the *entire* family were behind me doing the dance as well. I’m really hoping the camera was rolling, would be hilarious to watch that back!

You’re touring this show to Melbourne and Canberra after Sydney – where (and why!) are your favourite hangouts in those cities?
Can you believe, I’ve never ever been to Melbourne. So I’m open to suggestions! And the last time I was in Canberra was when I was a kid. So this tour will be significant for me in a whole bunch of ways.

Yannick Lawry and George Zhao will be appearing in The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis.
Dates: 22 Nov – 10 Dec, 2016
Venue: Seymour Centre