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.
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.
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.
While the dialogue written by this first-time playwright, Roger Crane, was picked up by one or two critics as being “sententious” or “speculative,” the storyline was certainly appreciated as a gripping thriller, shrouded in papal intrigue. The performances won acclaim across the board, particularly Suchet’s, with his portrayal of the troubled Cardinal Benelli being praised as “compelling”. The show does suffer from its conventional approach in most eyes, and it is suggested that on a second viewing (after the Chichester Festival), the form is “distinctly tired” and the entire piece is a little more “mechanical”. However, this does not detract too much from the enjoyment in the mystery, and the overall impression is of an involving and gripping evening that never quite rises to the spectacular.
- by Stuart Denison