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 The Theatreguide.London Review

The Last Confession
Haymarket Theatre       Summer 2007

This is the sort of play you thought - and perhaps hoped - they didn't write anymore - earnest, eloquent, meticulously researched and unrelentingly tedious.

Still, it might find an audience to give it a modest run, among those attracted to a drama that is self-consciously About Something, that hints at chicanery in the Catholic Church, and that features a number of faces you'll recognise from TV and films, even if you're not sure of the names - people like David Suchet, Michael Jayston, Charles Kay, Bernard Lloyd, Clifford Rose and Richard O'Callaghan.

Roger Crane's drama, partly a meditation on faith, partly an expose of Vatican power politics and party a detective story, centres on the 33-day Papacy of John Paul I in 1978.

David Suchet plays a Vatican power broker who engineers the election of the liberal John Paul to foil rival reactionaries in the Curia and who, after the Pope's sudden death, runs for the Papacy himself, only to have to defer to the dark horse candidacy of the Polish outsider who becomes John Paul II.

Along the way there is much discussion and debate on the relative importance of faith and political savvy within the Vatican, along with the old charge that the Pope was murdered to forestall his intended reforms - though the most the playwright can come up with, aside from some scattershot suspicions, is the thought that they might have worked the poor man to death by overloading him with trivia as part of the campaign to keep him from accomplishing anything.

Everybody makes speeches at each other, David Suchet's character has an obligatory crisis of faith, the baddies played by Bernard Lloyd, Charles Kay and Stuart Milligan practically twirl their moustachios in villainy, and we are reminded (if we needed reminding) that the Church is first and foremost a political entity and multinational corporation whose highest executives can be more concerned with retaining and wielding their power than with matters theological.

Director David Jones weaves unsteadily through the script's reams of exposition and back story as we struggle to sort out just who these people all are and whether they're real (as evidently most of them are) or fictional, and then as its focus shifts back and forth among the Suchet character's spiritual crisis, the murder mystery and the political expose.

In stronger authorial and directorial hands any one of these might have made an effective play, but here they remain a jumble, and the lack of a clear centre just adds to the feeling of slogging lifelessness.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review of The Last Confession - Haymarket Theatre 2007

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