By Sophie Kruse
It was clear that actor David Suchet was responsible for the hype around the Australian debut of the internationally acclaimed, and West End hit, ‘The Last Confession’, judging by the excited applause that greeted his entrance. Suchet, who earned his fame portraying Hercule Poirot in the TV adaptation of Agatha Christie’s beloved mystery novels, does not disappoint as Giovanni Benelli, a cardinal experiencing a crisis of faith at a critical point in Vatican history.
The play centres on the sudden the death of John Paul I in 1978, 33 days into his term as Pope. A radical thinker who supported contraception and the modernisation of the Vatican, Benelli (who helped the pope to power and now has a guilty conscience) suspects foul play in Paul’s death. Although it establishes motives for those who distrusted Pope John Paul’s new approach to the church, the performance stays well away from solving the potential murder mystery. Rather, it shows the difficulty of a quest for truth within an establishment so concerned with protecting its image and the faith of its dwindling supporters that it would conceal a scandal at all costs.
Taking on a role reminiscent of Christie’s fastidious Belgian detective, Benelli puts his ‘little grey cells’ to work to see if he can distinguish truth from lies, and find out the cause behind the Pope’s mysterious death.
The story is shaped by Benelli’s final confession, which interjects the events that unfold. As the play is really a recount of events, focused on church politics, it is expository and dialogue-heavy rather than suspenseful. Barring that of Suchet’s dying cardinal, and Richard O’Callaghan’s convincing and delightful Pope John Paul I, there is little character development.
The spectacular and imposing set drew on the grandeur of the Vatican, whilst metal bars made it look ominously like a cage, trapping the characters in their stagnant ways.
While not a ‘conspiracy thriller’, it was a compelling and intelligent examination of the church today, and a terrific performance to add to David Suchet’s reputable body of work.
‘The Last Confession’ runs until August 16.