King’s Head Theatre associate artist Peter Darney returns to Islington to direct the European premiere of Mark St Germain’s award-winning 2010 Off-Broadway play Freud’s Last Session. He took time out from rehearsals to tell us about Sigmund Freud, CS Lewis and why we need to support live theatre now. Time to get booking!
Freud’s Last Session, suggested by the book The Question of God and an intellectual debate on two of the 20th century’s greatest thinkers, runs at the King’s Head Theatre from 18 January to 12 February 2022, with a press night on 20 January and a post-show Q&A chaired by Mates founder Terri Paddock on 25 January.
The first of September, 1939. Sigmund Freud, the world-renowned psychoanalyst awaits the visit of soon-to-be-legendary author CS Lewis on the day World War Two is declared.
Lewis, a former atheist turned Christian is expecting to be taken to task for his recent satirisation of Freud in a book. However, the impending war and Freud’s failing health catalyses a far deeper conversation as they clash about the existence of God, love, sex, and the meaning of life – only two weeks before Freud, with his doctor’s help, takes his own.
Through an imagined conversation between a psychiatrist on the brink and the academic who would go on to write books steeped in theology, Mark St Germain‘s award-winning play Freud’s Last Session gives a heightened tension to the age-old questions of faith, love, sex and existence itself.
Real-life psychiatrist turned actor Dr Julian Bird takes the title role opposite Sean Browne playing CS Lewis in this humorous two-hander.
In conversation with… Director Peter Darney
Peter Darney (director) is a King’s Head associate artist and a writer/director working in Theatre and Film. He wrote and directed the award-winning 5 Guys Chillin which has been produced Off-Broadway, Toronto, Sydney, Paris, Dublin, Edinburgh, Brighton and London, and was named one of ’Ten Plays That Shaped Queer Theatre History’ by the Evening Standard. His many other directing credits include The Spy Plays, The Drag, High Ridin’, Free and Proud, The Revengers Tragedy, James Dean Is Dead, Pinocchio, Signal Failure, Kindness, Githa, 6 degree’s, Frank Sent Me, Edward II, Mysterious Skin, Arden of Faversham and Beautiful Thing. Peter is a member of BFI X BAFTA Crew, and currently has film projects in development with companies including BBC Wales, Ffilm Cymru, Fullwell 73 and Empty Room Productions.
How did you come across this play?
I have worked in New York a few times over the years. First with a show called Signal Failure that played SoHo Playhouse off-Broadway, then again with 5 Guys Chillin’, and most recently a play called Memorare. So I’d heard of Freud’s Last Session both through New York friends and being there. So I was familiar with it to an extent. Julian Bird (the actor playing Freud) and I had decided we wanted to work together and were looking for a suitable piece. He suggested this play. I got hold of a reader copy from the writer Mark St Germain’s agent, and we decided it was the perfect match.
Why did you want to direct it at the King’s Head?
I am always excited to try different things! Recently, I’ve worked with quite large casts (5-20+), and I was excited by the idea of working with the intimacy and detail a two-hander brings. I also realised that, as I was reading it, I was picturing it at the King’s Head Theatre in thrust formation. A few years ago, I had recommended Incident at Vichy to them for a transfer, which went very well, and I think that there is a lot of cross-over between these audiences. So I sent the King’s Head a copy, and I was super excited that they felt it was a great fit too.
Why do you think the subject matter is relevant in 2022?
This play debates the big issues in life. Is there a God? Is life controlled or chaos? Do we own our lives? Do we have autonomy over our bodies? I think the effect of the pandemic on a lot of us has been to reflect, to think about what matters in life, to examine our responsibilities to each other and our moral codes. So in that sense, I think it’s totally relevant. And both Sigmund Freud and CS Lewis’ thinking is still very much a part of life today! This play also reminds us of a time when people had to flee persecution, to migrate to the UK for safety. The country they migrated from may have changed, but that situation hasn’t and we should never forget that.
How much did you know about Sigmund Freud before this production?
I knew a little. I had been doing some research on Freud’s relationship with his daughter Anna, which is also a feature of this play. I also knew (from my tour guide at Oxford days) quite a bit about CS Lewis and the Inklings who also feature.
As a company, we also visited the Freud Museum in Hampstead. I was really struck by just how many religious/spiritual artifacts Freud had in his study. It was clearly an obsession! I did think it fascinating that a famous atheist would have his desk guarded by deities!
You have a real-life psychiatrist playing Sigmund Freud. Does that help?
Hugely! Julian knows a great deal about the various forms of therapy. Also, when you are trying to work out the psychological truths and motivations of the characters, it never hurts to have a professional in the room.
You had a big hit with 5 Guys Chillin’, which you wrote as well as directed. What was your highlight from that show’s journey?
5 Guys Chillin’ has brought so much to me over the years. It’s crazy to think that I wrote it with no funding or support while working three jobs to survive! And it’s still playing in Paris now.
One of the highlights for me has been the confidence it brought me as a writer, and the way it’s helped me in my progression to being a writer/director in film. But the biggest highlight has to be the actors who have been involved over the years, and I still get messages from people telling us that the play helped them in their recovery. Theatre should have the power to make social change, to break down stigmas, to challenge thinking, and in our own small way over the years, we feel that we were able to do that.
You’re an associate artist at the King’s Head. What does that mean to you?
The King’s Head has been a kind of anchor to me over the years. They have shouted out my successes on socials and given me a shoulder to cry on with my failures. And they have given a lot of my work a home. I am so excited for the theatre in this new chapter of its journey as the new team leads them into a new building and to even greater strengths.
In a nutshell, why should audiences see Freud’s Last Session?
It’s funny. It’s touching. It’s thought-provoking. It’s challenging. It’s got a kick-ass set and two kick-ass actors. And the pandemic has hit us hard. We need you! We need your support! We need you to book and support live theatre.
Freud’s Last Session runs from 18 January to 12 February 2022 at the King’s Head Theatre, 115 Upper Street, London N1 1QN, with performances Tuesdays to Saturdays at 7pm, matinees Sundays at 2.30pm. Tickets from £10. CLICK HERE TO PURCHASE!