The Vatican 1978: a little-known cardinal from Venice is elected to succeed Pope Paul VI. A compromise candidate, he takes the name Pope John Paul I, and quickly shows himself to be the liberal the reactionaries within the Catholic Church most feared. Just 33 days later, he is dead. No official investigation is conducted, no autopsy performed, and the Vatican’s press release about the cause of death is later found to be, in large part, false. And just the evening before his death, John Paul had warned three of his most influential but hostile cardinals that they would be replaced.
The Pope’s death marks the climax of 15 troubled years of controversy and machination within the Church; schisms threaten its unity and the shadow of the Mafia hovers over its financial affairs. Only Cardinal Benelli has the power to challenge the dead Pope's enemies. Crane’s thriller tracks the dramatic tensions, crises of faith and political manoeuvrings inside the Vatican surrounding the death of the man known as ‘the Smiling Pope’.
David Suchet, who plays Cardinal Benelli, is best known to TV fans for his portrayal of Agatha Christie's Poirot. He was most recently seen in Once in a Lifetime at the National in 2006 and Man and Boy in the West End in 2005. His other major West End credits include Amadeus (which also transferred to Broadway), Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and Oleanna.
Suchet is joined in The Last Confession cast by Joseph Mydell and Michael Cronin as well as Paul Foster, Maroussia Frank, John Franklyn-Robbins, Michael Jayston, Charles Kay, Bernard Lloyd, Joseph Long, Roger May, Christoper Mellows, Stuart Milligan, Richard O’Callaghan, Bruce Purchase and Clifford Rose. The premiere production is directed by David Jones and designed by William Dudley, with costumes by Fotini Dimou, lighting by Peter Mumford and music by Dominic Muldowney. It’s produced by Duncan Weldon, Paul Elliott and Theatre Royal Haymarket Productions.
The Last Confession premiered on Tuesday (8 May 2007, previews from 27 April) at Chichester Festival Theatre, where it finished on 19 May. It then visits Plymouth, Bath, Malvern and Milton Keynes, where its touring schedule concludes on 23 June. Currently at the Haymarket, the UK premiere of Edward Albee’s The Lady from Dubuque, starring Dame Maggie Smith, finishes its limited three-month season on 9 June (See Review Round-up, 21 Mar 2007).
- by Terri Paddock