Monday, 6 August 2012

Long Day's Journey Into Night

This was to be the first of several plays I was planning to catch in London during my summer sojourn this year. It was also the one I was probably most looking forward to, as I have been wanting desperately to see David Suchet on stage for some time now. And I certainly ended up with more than I hoped for. I did not merely see him - I spoke with him, shook hands with him, and took a photograph with him. Oh, and got his autograph as well.

He really is one of the kindest stage “stars” I have ever met.

But enough about that. How was the play? This was my first Eugene O’Neill but most people who knew the play thought I would enjoy it. And I did. This unashamedly autobiographical play of O’Neill’s own painful family experience (even the two sons are named after his brothers) is heavy-going and ultimately offers no tale of redemption or of hope for the future, but it is a deadly accurate account of one family’s - and possibly the whole of humanity’s - suffering in the face of the painful past and the equally painful present.
”The past is the present, isn’t it? It’s the future, too. We all try to lie out of that but life won’t let us.”
Long Day’s Journey Into Night is a play that tracks a single day in the life of the Tyrone family as the morning progresses into night. The stage lighting and the story tracks the movement of daylight into darkness, but the play itself is really tracking very different moves from light to dark: from youthful promise to aged disappointment, from innocent love to the bitterness of experience and knowledge, and from fragile sanity to insanity. It may be Mary Tyrone’s mental retreat from her painful present into the simpler, more innocent past that appears to be the focus of this family tragedy; but the reality is that all four Tyrones are still caught up in the past and are each following their own descent from light to dark, happiness to despair.

Much of the play is about remembering - and about how remembering the past can pull us deeper and deeper into an unhappiness that we then cannot escape:
”James! We’ve loved each other! We always will! Let’s remember only that, and not try to understand what we cannot understand, or help things that cannot be helped - the things life has done to us we cannot excuse or explain.”
We are all taught that love means forgiveness; and in this play, forgiveness is on display at every turn. Every unkind word; every bitter remark - these are followed immediately by the offending character pleading for the others’ forgiveness and usually receiving it. Because they are family - and because they love one another. Yet, Mary Tyrone’s plea above is not about forgiveness but about forgetting - to “remember only” the good. For as she realises, forgiveness is nothing without forgetting as well. Her family are all too ready to forgive her her previous slips from sanity into insanity (though in reality one must ask if there really is anything in that which needs forgiving) - but their inability to forget cause them to eye her with suspicion, to question every word she says, and ultimately to drive her further into loneliness, unhappiness and despair.

”But I suppose life has made him like that, and he can’t help it. None of us can help the things life has done to us. They’re done before you realise it, and once they’re done they make you do other things until at last everything comes between you and what you’d like to be, and you’ve lost your true self forever.”

Thus, the past makes prisoners of us all. And Long Day’s Journey is almost Chekovian in its portrayal of characters who suffer because of their inability to let go of the past. The past, for O’Neill, is depicted as a dangerous thing. Mary escapes her present unhappiness and loneliness by sinking deep into her past with the help of heroin; James Tyrone’s stinginess is borne out of a past childhood of hardship, acknowledges that his obsession with money came back to hurt his ambition and stage career - while his family argue that it has similarly hurt them both individually and as a family all their lives.

In some ways, O’Neill might be said to be making a plea for forgetfulness - on the basis that if the past and remembering is the source of our unhappiness then we can only escape it when we forget and let go completely. And he does give Edmond (who is really occupying the position of O’Neill himself in this dysfunctional family) a speech elegizing the power of losing and forgetting oneself:
”I became drunk with the beauty and singing rhythm of it, and for a moment I lost myself - actually lost my life. I was set free!... I belonged, without past or future, within peace and unity and a wild joy, within something greater than my own life, or the life of Man, to LIfe itself!”
But in reality, I think, the play amounts to a cry of, “O, how unhappy the lot of man is! And how unhappy is it to be alive!” For there are no moments of real happiness in this play. The jokes, laughter and stories told by the four characters segue almost immediately into recriminations and arguments, while reminiscing about the happy past only serves to underline the characters’ present misery and to spark feelings of bitterness on their parts.

The future, too, looks no better. There is no sense of redemption, or sense of being able to overcome the present tribulations. We know at the beginning of the play that Mary is only recently returned from convalescing at a home. Her return to sanity, a drug-free life and her family is a recent one. Yet in the course of a single day, she is driven back to the drug and to the past, while her family watches helplessly on - desperately wishing her to do something to stop herself sliding back and unable to do anything but watch helplessly on.

It is clear that an overwhelming sense of helplessness pervades both the play and hte lives of this characters. When Edmond speaks bitterly of that fact that:
”I will always be a stranger who never feels at home, who does not really want and is not really wanted, who can never belong, who must always be a little in love with death.”
he is speaking with O’Neill’s voice, and not only of himself - but for all mankind. We must all, the play suggests, be a little in love with death. For between seeing the first light of day at our births and the darkness of our deaths is the long, exhausting, miserable and lonely journey that is life. We may try to understand and to be there for one another - yet as the story of Mary and James Tyrone’s love turned to bitterness tells us: in the end, we always make that journey alone. Even if we were lucky enough to fall in love and to be loved back. We are all prisoners: of the past, of the present, and of Life itself. And because the freedom that comes from forgetting is impossible (who is able to forget?), the only real freedom is in death.

No, O’Neill’s conclusion is not a happy one at all.

I may have watched this production because I wanted to see Suchet in action, but in truth it was a fine ensemble piece - with all four performances strong and well-developed. I have a few reservations about Laurie Metcalf’s Mary Tyrone, though. I felt that while Metcalf captured her character’s nervousness and abstractedness well, she lacked the girlishness called for in the script. Her dry, and ultimately mature awareness was well-suited to the bitterness of the present-day Mary, but that maturity needed to be contrasted with the innocence and girlishness of a convent girl in order to capture the full extent of Mary’s regression into the past and into her past self. That element was a little lacking.

It also felt at times that the play’s lines were being delivered at breakneck pace. I struggled a little at the beginning to catch up with the words as they sped from the actors’ lips. While I appreciate that pacing is of the essence if this long play is to be performed in 3 hours, there were times I wished for some more pauses in order for the audience to catch its breath and for the enormity of some of the on-stage revelations and biographical detail to sink in.

Monday, 28 May 2012

Lady Gaga: Born This Way Ball

It's rather hard to justify missing out on Lady Gaga when she comes round to your country on tour - especially since it's been 4 years since she was last here and she's had a never-ending string of hits since that more than justify concert attendance despite my never having listened to her albums in full before.

But the whole point of a Gaga concert has never been the music alone - it's the show that you're there for. And the Lady did not disappoint. I mean, she brought in a HUGE FRICKIN CASTLE. A CASTLE! That opens up to reveal alcoves for the live band members and that you can climb up and down and disappear down hatches into. And an animatronic face of herself! (Ok so I've been told it probably wasn't animatronic but a projector-based trick - but still, it looked like it was animatronic, and I am suitably impressed.)

Basically, watch and learn, all you other divas - Gaga has taken showbiz and blown it sky high.

And talk about building castles in the sky - I don't want to even think about how much building that set costs. Or how much it costs to ship it around the world.

In the presence of a set as dominating as this, any talk of the music seems secondary and to a certain extent a lot of it was. Apart from her standout singles (the usual suspects: Born This Way, Bad Romance, Poker Face, Just Dance, Paparazzi, Edge of Glory, Marry Tonight), the other songs from her latest album seemed to fade into an indistinguishable mass of song and dance routines that, while not bad, didn't quite catch the crowd in the same way the hits did.

Even the costumes were decidedly tame for a Gaga show - though I put it down to the fact that all the money probably went into the set. I mean, really, do you need fancy costumes once you have a huge castle? I wouldn't.

While it was by any standards a blow-your-mind-over-the-top show deserving of the Gaga label (and gaga treatment), however, I came away from the concert with pretty mixed feelings. The truth of the matter is: Gaga managed to irritate me like no other singer/artiste I have ever seen perform has ever managed before.

This feeling did not come on suddenly; it built up progressively over the course of the concert - but with the end result that I spent most of the last 45 minutes of the concert in the lowest mood possible and with my enjoyment of the music completely killed. It started with her pre-Judas schtick where she placed herself in a Christ-like position in relation to the crowd and claimed to be the embodiment of our hopes and dreams and painted herself our saviour. While I understand that it was really an essential part of the lead-up to the next song, it really felt like it was laying it on a little unnecessarily thick. I'm not religious, but my immediate reaction to anyone claiming to be the embodiment of my hopes and dreams is to tell them to take their bodies and shove it up somewhere rude (hence demonstrating why I'm not religious). But while this was mildly irritating, I did try to give it a pass on artistic grounds. The next bit, however, where she claimed to be a "non-conformist" and a "rebel" and to not give a "f***" about what anyone thought hit me like a sledgehammer though, with its inconsistency in light of the news (just broken this morning) that she was cancelling her shows in Indonesia because of threats from Muslim elements. The hypocrisy of her statements in light of this was impossible to ignore: if you didn't give a "f***", then why not go ahead with the concerts and damn the consequences? To preach overthrow and freedom only in countries that offer you a safe and licensed platform to do it struck me as ludicrous and by the time she hunched herself over her keyboard-outfitted motorcycle and started telling us the story of her being thrown into the trash by boys in high school, I was so disgusted by this whole display of naive and American first-world "can-do" spirit I couldn't maintain my good mood any further.

I'm aware that saying all the above won't garner me any fans (and will probably earn me some flames, if this post is seen by the general public) and I also know that Gaga was being Gaga: she is over the top with everything - and not just in terms of performance. But this was what I honestly felt and it's a pity I felt it, because I was all ready to be blown away and to have a great time. Unfortunately for me, reality got in the way of the castle and managed to overshadow it in the end.

In that sense, it was quite a pity.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Singapore Arts Festival 2012 - Flux

I responded to one review of this show to say that I was glad someone else had reviewed it as I would watch it and spend the entire time distracted by the horses and the riding. Art, schmart - this was one show I definitely expected to be incapable of approaching as a theatre or performance critic on the basis that my equestrian obsession would completely take over.

Oddly enough, however, I did emerge from the show with some comments - though less about the performance and its "meaning" than about what I liked and didn't like. So, first: I liked the filmed portion set in Marseilles. There was something very French and haunting about this black-and-white short featuring the male rider chasing after the female amidst cargo containers - with the horses' hoofbeats on the tarmac echoing against the hollow metal.

I also found myself liking the dance against the projected constellation map. Someone next to me made the vaguely sardonic observation that one of the greatest achievements of the 21st century must be teaching a horse contemporary dance (actually it isn't - teaching a horse to dance to hip-hop is), but there was something about the combination of horse, man and the stars that to me actually started to engage with the centaur conceit that purportedly lies at the heart of Flux.

That conceit reaches its height, for me, during the final portion of the show: when the two riders and their horses are out on the waterborne platform on the reservoir. With the horses lying on the sand and the two riders stripped to their waists, they actually look like the top halves of centaurs with their horse-bodies lying flat on the ground as the human halves nuzzle and wrap around one another.

I must admit that I've emerged from the performance none-the-wiser about the show's meaning (why we're being asked to consider if there are centaurs everywhere, for instance), but I grew more comfortable with the "centaur" label as the show moved along. My main wish, though, was for them to have done the centaur vs. dragon dance performance 'live' instead of filming and showing it as a short clip. When I stumbled across the rehearsals for the dragon dance a few weeks back, I was hoping that it would be a part of the live performance because it was actually very exciting and thrilling to watch. It was also beautiful - a furious ripple of red dashing around attempting to contain the black beast within. And it would have been an interesting element to introduce into the show - the idea of the centaurs travelling to different parts of the world and challenging and taking on the mythical creatures native to those lands. Perhaps there was no room in the conception of Flux for that sort of flexibility, but it seems to run counter to the title of the piece itself, which connotes change and constant change at that.

The verdict? Pretty horses. And if you're not sold on the show, I guarantee there's enough eye candy (equine or otherwise) to keep you occupied.

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Singapore Arts Festival 2012 - Very Wagnerian Night

Very Wagnerian Night is lengthy. Playing as it does for nearly 3 hours, just getting through the entire production becomes a test of endurance – much like my first Wagnerian experience nearly 7 years ago now. In that, I suppose, the Wagner experience it provides is somewhat authentic.

In truth, however, the production actually features relatively little of Wagner’s music for a production that claims not merely to provide a “Wagnerian Night” but a “Very Wagnerian Night” for its audiences. Both Charlottes Engelkes and Lindy Larsson have clearly had some classical training, but their voices only really shine in their renditions of popular modern-day tunes. Engelkes’, in particular, delivers a particularly sultry Beach Boys-esque number about falling in love with the King’s messenger while Larsson delivers a passionate (if slightly shrill) rendition of “Goldeneye” (yes – the James Bond tune). Even when bits of Wagner’s operas were sung, they were not sung to Wagner’s own music but what appeared to be completely different (and unrelated) compositions.

Ultimately, the bits of Wagnerian opera are just that: bits of German scattered at seeming random across a smorgasbord of dance, physical theatre, monologues, and audience interactions. Musically speaking he night was not, therefore, very Wagnerian at all. Was it any more so in terms of the production’s content?

The evening divides itself into three distinct parts. The first, Miss Very Wagner, features Engelkes as the sole performer in search of Wagner’s operatic heroines and what these characters say about femininity and female empowerment. One dominant strand to emerge from this smörgåsbord of ships’ sails, flimsy home-made props, on-stage dashing about, asides to the audience and swan impersonations is the question of believability: how believable are Wagner’s heroines who (amongst others) fall in love with men based on their photographs and then throw themselves off cliffs in order to prove their faithfulness after he has rejected them? Engelkes’ repeated tongue-in-cheek asides to the audience about how “A Good Soprano” must make these things believable is an acknowledgement of how unreal all of Wagner’s women must sometimes seem – and how ridiculous.

But there is something else running beneath all of Engelkes’ good-natured humour and breaking of the fourth wall – an underlying motif arising out of her choice to tell the stories of several of Wagner’s female characters from a single, personal perspective. The stories are different but there is a sense in which they are all the same – one indistinguishable pattern of limited choice, enslavement and womanly sacrifice that Wagner’s female characters return to again and again in the same way that Wagner’s compositions return again and again to explore the same musical motifs and chords. As Engelkes points out in an early monologue: this pattern of loving too much and sacrificing all in the face of unjust accusations and demand is one that real women are no strangers to – even if we don’t end up throwing ourselves off a cliff.

With all of the above peeping through the distractingly cluttered production, I found it possible to remain engaged by Miss Very Wagner, though at one and a half hours the play felt unnecessarily drawn out. The themes I raise above could possibly have been explored with more clarity and certainly with more succinctness.

If the first part of the evening held some promise, the second part – Siegfried – The Very Wagner Hero Hour – marked the start of a steady descent in my enjoyment. Siegfried purports to explore a simple question (“What is a superhero?”), but it does so in the most messy and oddly camp way possible. Comic books are strewn across the stage and pasted in a collage over the panel backdrop; a throwaway line about becoming a man erupts into a song-and-bodypainting exercise; and references to every man being a hero intersperse the main tale which appears to follow the original story of Wagner’s Siegfried – where a boy comes into possession of the Ring of Power after having killed his stepmother, slain a dragon and drunk of its blood. It is difficult enough to try and make sense of all these varying notions of heroism; my head began to really hurt, though, once references to the Nietzschean concept of the Übermensch (“Do you want to save the world? Which world were you thinking of? Which world do you choose to belong to?”) were thrown in – seemingly at random, and without any attempt to guide the audience in making sense of what they were seeing on stage.

Perhaps if I was being generous, I would make the argument that by throwing up potential answers without any guidance, the production is itself engaging in an Übermensch-esque exercise of asking its audience to define their own value of what a superhero was. That is with the benefit of hindsight, though, and whilst feeling far less exhausted than I was feeling that night. At the time, though, I both felt and understood the frustrations of an audience that was both tired after more than two and a half hours of performance and struggling to keep both its sense of humour and its willingness to engage any further with the incomprehensible performance unfolding before it.

Which brings us to the third portion of the production, titled All is Divine. This part made no bones of the fact that it was a work in progress.

It is a caveat makes it difficult to say much about the third portion of the evening – an unfortunate thing, given the fact that the scope of the third act appears to be the evening’s most ambitious. The programme states that All is Divine seeks to explore the end of all things, the beginning of the new and our future relations to power, gold and pride. Should it deliver, it would be something to applaud. But I am sceptical, given the Company’s tendency to range widely in the ideas and images it deploys while offering little direction to the audience as to which way it intends to go.

Some of this is already evident in the parts of the work that were staged. We are presented with a series of unconnected references to the end of the world: a “Welcome to Hell Air” segment that seemed borne out of Hayao Miyazaki’s imagination, an image of Yggdrasil the World Tree falling apart, the Furies cackling about cutting the threads of the future, an image of Odin with his ravens awaiting the coming of Ragnarok, and Larsson singing to The Carpenters (“Don’t they know it’s the end of the world?”). All this was accompanied by swooping dance moves in the background, multilingual monologues and “artistically” performed brush calligraphy – things which, I fear, have a tendency to immediately trigger anyone’s impatience button. All is Divine presently lacks focus, but that is excusable in a production that explicitly claims to be a work in progress. What it cannot be excused for is for taking itself too seriously – a tendency that I hope will be corrected before it is finally complete.

Most people have heard of Wagner but few have actually experienced his works. In view of this, Very Wagnerian Night fits well within the object of this year’s Singapore Arts Festival of bringing our “lost poems” to life. But what works as an intellectual exercise does not always translate into a good audience experience (hence, the growing dissatisfaction I experience watching the Siegfried segment and the outright impatience I felt with All is Divine). There are strong possibilities to be explored in the concepts of Wagner’s heroes and heroines. But Very Wagnerian Night strikes me as having a few too many ideas while offering far too few conclusions. While I appreciate the desire to explore these concepts and allow the audience to draw their own conclusions, there is something to be said for helping your audience along. In the end, three hours is a long time to have to struggle to make sense of something. The experience would be helped if we were helped as well.

Friday, 18 May 2012

Axis of Awesome

Concerts are generally best enjoyed with company but I guess if you are planning to head to one alone then a comedy band is as good as any to catch in the sole company of a few glasses of wine.

But really, what else is there to say about the Axis of Awesome apart from the fact that their gig was just an awesome good time and rollicking hilarious fun? I only knew them for their now-ubiquitous 4 Chord Song but thanks to this gig I now know that if I ever get myself a car one day (need to learn to drive first) I am going to - at least once - roll down my car window, turn up the volume on my CD player, and blast Can You Hear the F***ing Music Coming Out of My Car? as loudly as I possibly can.

And that if I ever write a love song, writing it in German with a few "Sieg, heil!"s thrown in is sure to draw the laughs.

All in all it was a fantastic evening filled with crazed songs, wolf howls (don't ask. really.) and height jokes (sorry, Benny) topped off with a KFC song for the encore. Yes, you heard it right; and no, you don't want to actually hear it. Really.

(Nah, I'm joking. Really, you have to. At least once.)

Friday, 4 May 2012

A Chorus Line

It's hard not to get excited about such things - small as they are - but here it comes: I'VE BEEN PUBLISHED IN AN OFFICIAL NEWSPAPER! WHOOPDEEDOO! *dances the little happy jiggity dance and does a headstand*

Yes, it's my first review in print. And I am understandably a little more than pleased with myself. The feeling should pass.

On the whole, not much to add to what is in print. Except that I liked A Chorus Line far more than I liked musicals like Wicked! or The Lion King - both of which ran recently in Singapore and which I avoided. There is something artificial after a while about the whole "Big props! Big costumes! Big wigs! Big belt-y tunes! Big epic romantic/tragic storyline!" philosophy that seems to run through most musicals these days. A Chorus Line is charming precisely because it is the complete opposite: small, intimate, and heartfelt.

Kudos to MBS for bringing this production in. I only note with some irony that even the organisers acknowledge that not many will share my preference for small lesser-known musicals like these: the three-week run is very much shorter than Wicked!'s four month-long spree.

Friday, 27 April 2012

Trainstopping - The Year in Revue 2011

I have to admit that this is the first musical/revue I’ve caught in Singapore thus far – the Chestnut Specials, W!ld Rice pantos and other end-of-year feel-good variety acts have so far passed me by. But what an introduction it is.

Sight Lines Productions may be a new production company and this, its first production - but I challenge you to find any evidence of that fact. This was a well-done, well-thought production built on the sustained fiction that the two rows of leather chairs facing one another on the old parliamentary debating chamber floor resembled the two facing rows of seats on an MRT train. From there, the perfect synchronisation of lighting, sound and multimedia brought us through a whirlwind and irreverent look at the best “public” bits of 2011 – from train break-downs to elections, from “ponding” along Orchard Road to those ridiculous two queues that every “Gong Cha” outlet in Singapore seems to have – before we are “released” out the emergency back exit in a simulation of an actual evacuation from a train at a standstill. It also brought us some “private” moments as well – little vignettes that prove memorable just for those little things that they manage to capture about how Singaporeans truly are. From the armed beret-sporting guards so often found on our trains whispering about how much time they’re wasting doing a pointless job to the Starbucks waiter putting on his chirpy faux American accent: these were not just stereotypes that actors Celine Rosa Tan, Darius Tan and Siti Khalijah Zainal were inhabiting but actual characters with distinct personalities and depth despite the brevity of their appearances.

The real stars in any revue are the songs though – and in this writers Derrick Chew and Darius Tan do not disappoint. We may not be great songwriters, but Singaporeans are quickly proving that we can do pastiches and spoofs as well as anybody else can in the business. From Hairspray to Wicked, Beyoncé to LMFAO – no tune that was popular in 2011 escaped being transformed into a song about train breakdowns (“Don’t break our glass” or “Every day we’re struggling”), and even the spat between the arts-loving and arts-hating community (“Loathing – unadulterated loathing”). Naturally, some songs and sketches work better than others. For instance, Siti Khalijah enjoys a particularly excellent sketch belting out the line “I am a Jurong girl forever – West, not East, East, East”, while a prolonged song and dance number between Tan and Tan (what a coincidence) about the year’s never-ending elections fell just a little flat. The best are those that abandon political critique for a sideways look at public events – and then add on a little private twist. I particularly the enjoyed the take on the flooding at Orchard Road, with the clever use of the different levels of stage to give us a picture of Espirit gloating at the misfortune of Starbucks and Wendy’s below. The quick-fire snapshots of things happening at Liat Towers just moments before the rain struck also sent me into one long fit of the giggles.

The revue’s programme booklet declares rather boldly on its front that the show is “A Smash Hit!” Needless to say, I would have to agree. So catch it – it would be worth your while.

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Freud's Last Session

Rather in the same way that the character of CS Lewis in this play half-jokingly complains that they can never get away from the large couch sitting so prominently in a corner of the set, society never can quite seem to get away from Sigmund Freud - even when one isn't talking about his theories on sex.

Instead this play is about a lesser known public stance of Freud's: his atheism. It was known that a few weeks before his suicide, Freud met with an unknown Oxford don. Playwright Mark St. Germain's tightly-written piece posits the question: what if that don was CS Lewis and if so, what would they have discussed?

St. Germain's answer is simple: everything. God, war, Hitler, music, love, sex, fear and suicide - the imagined discussion ranges the whole gamut of possibilities and the audience is treated to a vision of what they know must be true: that if you throw great men with great minds together in a room, the result must be electrifying.

It would be foolish to try and summarise the play's content any further; but I will indulge, however, in a summary of what I thought was best about this production.

First, there was the set. Wong Chee Wai's creation is splendid to behold in its attention to detail and inclusivity. From the moment you stand at the Esplanade Theatre Studio's entrance, you are faced with a spot-lit white-washed cottage door. "Welcome," it says, "Welcome to the House of Freud - and come on in." Having entered, you are inside Freud's study - with his bookcase of trophies and knick-knacks, his desk on one end, his famous couch on the other, and large windows opening up into a plant-filled garden outside. As you take a seat in the audience you realise that the cornices of his study extend all the way from the stage into the audience space. Once again, the set welcomes you inside and says to you, the audience, that you are in that room, sharing that space with these two great men. Invisible watchers; but invisible participants too in the important debate that follows. It is a warm, welcoming, inclusive and beautiful set and one that I am still very impressed by.

Secondly: Matt Grey. I cannot adequately express how impressed I am by Grey's versatility. He is easily the most versatile actor I have seen in Singapore thus far. His Freud - of the stiff arthritic limbs and precisely accented German English - was the furthest cry possible from his singing, dancing, endearing and be-suited gay Toddy in Victor/Victoria nearly 3 years ago. I found myself staring in disbelief at the credits in the programme booklet. This was a pitch-perfect performance in terms of the mixture of stubbornness, impatience, keenness of wit and pathos that Grey brought to the character of Freud. And as one of two only two characters in the play, his ability to sustain that quality of performance was amazing - I take my hat off to his sheer stamina. Maintaining a German accent and the movements of a sick and dying 80-year-old must be immensely taxing and he was, when I caught him tonight at 8pm, about to do it a second time just over half an hour later.

Last: the authenticity of the debate that is the centre of this play and the evident conviction on the part of the playwright that this particular debate between these two men was - for some reason - worth staging. The debate seen on stage between Freud and Lewis is not the best possible debate in terms of intellectual content; indeed, one suspects the real Freud and Lewis, had they really met, would have had a far more productive discussion and quite possibly provided a few more answers to some of the easier questions that were asked. But no one expects St. Germain to authentically match the intellects of both of these formidable geniuses. That would simply be too much to ask. But why these two men and why this debate? Because, I think, St. Germain is trying to convince us that this is a debate worth having. And in a different sense of how that phrase is usually used. There are few who would deny that the existence or non-existence of God is an important debate and one that must be had. Yet everywhere around the world, debates in this field have degenerated into what Simon Jenkins of the Guardian recently dubbed "a platform of rival angers".

This imagined debate between Freud and Lewis, however, is anything but angry. It it humorous (on both sides), self-deprecating (on both sides) and self-aware (on both sides). Like the debates that rage around religion these days it comes to no concrete resolution - an impasse between both sides sustained by opposing convictions and nothing else - and is frustrating for those seeking definitive answers. And yet how much more exhilarating is the debate of these two giants of our recent past to the petty, sulky and even childish arguments that take place in our public sphere these days? A debate is worth having if it is also a joy to engage in - not if it leaves you despairing not only of the existence of God but of the existence our common humanity and empathy. This, I suspect, was the crux of St. Germain's thesis for this play and for that I applaud him, for it is one I share myself.