REVIEW: The Last Confession Theatre Royal Haymarket

PUBLISHED: 11:21 20 July 2007 | UPDATED: 14:35 07 September 2010

Three star rating The place is Rome and the time is 1978. Worn out by rifts in the Vatican between the forces of reaction and reform, Pope Paul VI has died and must be replaced. His heir comes in the diminutive

The Last Confession

Theatre Royal Haymarket

Three star rating

The place is Rome and the time is 1978. Worn out by rifts in the Vatican between the forces of reaction and reform, Pope Paul VI has died and must be replaced. His heir comes in the diminutive shape of Richard O'Callaghan's engagingly played John Paul I. This new, 'smiling Pope' is soon shocking traditionalists by his attempts to drag the Vatican into the 20th century. He was found dead in bed 33 days into his papacy, having just told the most reactionary elements of the Curia - the Vatican's administrative body - that their services were no longer be required. He was holding documentary proof of the Vatican's financial links with the Mafia when he was discovered.

First-time playwright Roger Crane's conjectural rehash of the events surrounding the pontiff's death focuses on David Suchet's pitch -perfect Cardinal Giovanni Benelli. This smoothly scheming Pope-maker's calm exterior belies an escalating crisis of faith.

The play opens five years after John Paul I's mysterious death, as Benelli makes his final confession. Although he admits to having killed God's emissary, what emerges during the play's extended flashback is something less simple. His were more sins of omission - of failing to protect his protégé from the Curia's machinations - than of actual wrongdoing. It is a fascinating subject for what is Crane's debut but the play largely fails to deliver on its promise. His treatment of themes such as the battle between bureaucracy and spirituality falls rather flat and we are left with an upmarket thriller.

Matters are not helped by the portentous dialogue, which is bloated with forced significance. And, if some of the characters are skilfully drawn, they mostly function as mouthpieces in a rather stilted debate.

Director David Jones has done what he can to animate the piece, but it is hard to escape the conclusion that this potentially excellent work is in need of a rewrite.

As it stands, the production is notable for its top notch cast who turn in a beautifully judged ensemble performance.

Until September 15.

David Gavan


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