In the Footsteps of Freud

I have just returned from a fortnight in London. One of the things on my “to do” list was a return to the Freud Museum in Hampstead. I had last been there about 14 years ago when I had a break from rehearsing a play on the top floor of a pub on an adjacent street.

This most recent visit however, had a greater meaning for me as we had just closed Freud’s Last Session here at Geva Theatre Center.

The Freud Museum, 20 Maresfield Gardens, London.
Photo by Dawn Kellogg

The house sits on a leafy, quiet street and seems the perfect place for the Freud family to have sought rest and refuge. It is a spacious house – Freud himself commented on how much more spacious this was than any of their previous homes. The Freud’s were lucky – they had friends in high places who could ensure that not only they, but their treasured possessions got out of Vienna safely and the house is furnished with beautiful pieces.

The centerpiece is of course, the study (the setting for Freud’s Last Session) and is amazingly comfortable, quiet and peaceful – totally conducive for Freud’s line of work. Bookshelves line the walls and everywhere you look (and I mean everywhere) there are icons, statuettes, fragments, masks – thousands of them – on bookshelves, in glass cases, on Freud’s desk. Most would call it “organized clutter” – but it is very organized. (I kind of pitied his housekeeper.) French doors lead to a small, but lovely garden.

For a time, I was alone in the study, soaking it all in. I almost felt as if I were an intruder into a very private space. It was as if the great man had just stepped out of the room. His spectacles and writing instruments are on his desk (along with more than one ashtray). His chair – that unique chair which was so beautifully reproduced by our props department for Freud’s Last Session – seemed to be just waiting for him to come back and occupy it.

Looking at my surroundings and thinking back to that most recent production on the Wilson Mainstage, I was amazed at how our designers and artisans here at the theatre were able to capture this space. Not just the physical space, but the feeling – that feeling that you have when you walk into someone’s private world – a little uncomfortable, a little awed – that “fly on the wall” feeling. Freud would die in this room on September 23, 1939.

The house is also filled with mementos of Anna Freud who lived here and continued her pioneering work in child psychoanalysis until her death in 1982. It has been open to the public since 1986.

If you were one of the many who saw Freud’s Last Session, I encourage you to visit the Freud Museum at 20 Maresfield Gardens when you are next in London. When you are there, think back to the play here at Geva and your experience will be greatly enhanced.

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