Wednesday, 16 May 2007

The Last Confession - Chichester Festival Theatre

The Last Confession by Roger Crane
Director: David Jones
Reviewer: Jenny Williams

Most of us of a certain age, whether Catholic or not, remember 1978 as a year of white smoke issuing twice from the Vatican, but we are less likely to remember why. After the death of Pope Paul VI, Pope John Paul I was elected, but was found dead in his bed 33 days later. The circumstances of his death have never been confirmed, except that the Vatican press release was found to be largely false.

The Last Confession is a murder mystery, and with David Suchet in the lead, thoughts of Hercule Poirot are not far away. However, Suchet’s character, Cardinal Benelli, is far from the objective Belgian detective. He is a man approaching death confessing his sins to a mysterious monk, and the play is mostly flashback. Benelli is racked with guilt having allowed personal ambition prevent him from supporting the new Pope.

What really happened is not known, but who was there is known. The politics of the Vatican are complicated, and the Cardinals, convincingly portrayed by a distinguished cast, are sophisticated men using intellect and wit to resist change and maintain their status. The new Pope, played by the smiling Richard O’Callaghan, is shown to be a humble, gentle soul, determined to carry out his office as a People’s Pope, being available to his flock, and purging the Church of corruption and intrigue. There are plenty of possible suspects…

The Last Confession is a fascinating portrayal of one man’s struggle against greed and intrigue, and of another’s ambition and betrayal, familiar but fascinating themes.
The acting is excellent, William Dudley’s set is interesting and effective, the material stimulating, and the mysterious monk thought provoking.

The first act is slow, with the scene being carefully painted, but it is important and well worth the wait for the second act. The tension builds and pace quickens.
A murder mystery. A political thriller. A psychological study. What more can you want?

The Chichester Festival runs through to September for more information visit
Photos by John Haynes: Cardinal Beneli (David Suchet) & The Confessor (Michael Jayston)
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