The Last Confession looks at the puzzling events preceding the death of Pope John Paul I, at the Royal Alexandra Theatre in Toronto
Somehow it seemed appropriate that the opening performance of The Last Confession at the Royal Alex was on a Sunday. After all, it is a play about the Catholic Church. Not a religious play though. It’s a political drama set in the Vatican.
It did make me give thanks for theatre. This is theatre at its best. A literate script by Roger Crane, tight direction by Jonathan Church, fabulous performances by a talented international cast, a towering set by William Dudley and perfect lighting by Peter Mumford.
Was Pope John Paul l murdered? He was elected Pope on August 26, 1978 and died suddenly 33 days later on September 28.
The play deals with the events before the death of the preceding papal authority Pope Paul Vl, during the 33 day reign of Pope John Paul l, and after his death. It’s framed as the confession of Cardinal Benelli, the man who engineered the election of John Paul l and who wanted to be Pope himself.
David Suchet is Cardinal Benelli and he’s fabulous. Suchet is best known to North American audiences for his portrayal of Hercule Porirot in Agatha Christie’s Poirot which is a shame. He was made for the stage. His Benelli is a complex man. We see his arrogance, his ambition, his doubts, his fears and his guilt.
Another standout performance was by Richard O’Callaghan as Cardinal Luciani and later Pope John Paul l. His portrayal of the Pope as a gentle holy man who is determined to do what he believes is God’s will was perfect.
Philip Craig was terrific as The Confessor, challenging Benelli, questioning his faith, and offering him some comfort.
There are 20 people listed in the cast in the program. There are actors from the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and the United States. They have about 700 years of acting experience between them and it shows. It’s not often that there’s an opportunity to see that much talent on a stage.
I was on my own at the performance so I couldn’t get a second opinion from a companion. The upside of going alone is that I can eavesdrop more easily. At intermission and at the end of the show the people I overheard were full of praise for the play. They thought the acting was uniformly excellent, they praised the script, they were fascinated by the story.
The Last Confession is definitely worth seeing. It’s a fascinating complex story and the performances are wonderful. Theatre really doesn’t get much better than this.
- The Last Confession is playing at the Royal Alexandra Theatre (260 King St West) until June 1st
- Performances are Tuesday through Saturday at 8 pm, Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday at 2 pm
- Ticket prices range from $35.00 to $119.00
- Tickets are available online, by phone at 416-872-1212/1800-461-3333, or in person at the box office
Photo of The Last Confession by Cylla von Tiedemann