Tag Archives: Séan Browne

“Freud’s Last Session” at the King’s Head Theatre

As a battle between great minds, Mark St Germain’s play tackles big issues. Arguments are handled well and the performances in this UK première are strong. If debate is what you want, this off-Broadway hit has plenty.

It’s a meeting between arch atheist Sigmund Freud and the “most reluctant convert” to religion, CS Lewis, so it’s no surprise that the hot topic is the existence of God. To bring out the arguments around theodicy there are two world wars to discuss alongside both men’s troubles, including Freud’s cancer and his wish to end his life.

One problem it’s easy to see coming is the amount of exposition needed. St Germain presents discussion clearly and in context – elegantly so. But there’s still an amount of exposition it’s obvious the men themselves wouldn’t need. There’s a touch too much of “So, you’ve read my…” along with keywords to anchor the audience.

Freud's Last Session at the King's Head Theatre credit Alex Brenner

As an intellectual tennis match, the production is, inevitably, static. Wisely, Brad Caleb Lee’s design doesn’t shy away from this. Peter Darney’s direction keeps the ball moving, including suggestions of action aided by Sam Glossop’s sound design: an air raid is particularly effective.

That potential bombing allows us to see Lewis still traumatised by his experiences in World War I. It’s a great moment for Séan Browne, who takes the part. As with Julian Bird’s Freud, these are admirable, controlled performances never overplaying their characters’ fame. 

Freud’s illness – performed brilliantly by Bird – is difficult to watch. There’s a visceral quality to the pain that might be the most memorable thing about the play. Credit where it’s due – St Germain shows both sides of a complex argument well. But it’s the acting that made the show for me: strong studies that make legendary figures and powerful discussions feel alive.

Until 12 February 2022


Photo by Alex Brenner

“The Three Lions” at the St James Theatre

One of the funniest plays I’ve seen in a long time, William Gaminara’s The Three Lions imagines the meeting of David Cameron, Prince William and David Beckham, as they campaign for England to host the 2018 FIFA World Cup. Every ounce of comic potential in the scenario is exploited and the play opens up to be about far more than football – politics, power, celebrity and compromise – all perfect sport for excellent satire.

The material is superb and the demanding mix of one-liners and farce played expertly. Ably supported by Antonia Kinlay, as Cameron’s gushing PR, and Ravi Aujla, as a suspiciously effusive hotel employee, the three leads give a winning hat-trick of performances. All embrace the caricatured, public faces of these famous men, so the portraits convincingly duplicate what we think we know about Cameron’s slickness, William’s blandness or Beckham’s intellect.

Tom Davey has the hardest job as Prince William, a generic nice-but-dim, but reveals a taste for practical jokes perfectly. Cameron comes out well, with Dugald Bruce-Lockhart’s careful study of a leader new to power and struggling with it already. A scene where Cameron swaps trousers with Beckham caused so much laughter I missed some lines. Stealing the show is Séan Browne’s Beckham. And not just because of the casting coup of an uncanny physical resemblance. As soon as Browne opens his mouth he has won the audience and there are countless times when Beckham’s idiotic replies are deftly handled.

While Gaminara’s targets might be easy, there’s nothing mean spirited about The Three Lions. And there’s a healthy undercurrent of anger about the abuses of power that are the play’s real concern. The text has a mass of gags and it’s Philip Wilson’s direction that ensures its success. There must be a football metaphor for how sure his work is: never taking his eye off the ball and scoring with each line. Simply insert your favourite football manager here to praise his work. Not that an interest in the game is needed to enjoy this beautifully crafted piece: huge fun, superbly done, Premier League stuff.

Until 2 May 2015


Photo by Craig Sugden