In the Last Confession, sandalwood wafts from the stage, immediately transporting the audience to a place of hushed silence, austerity, and cold stone. David Suchet, best known for playing Hercule Poirot in Agatha Christie's Poirot, commands the stage with a (surprisingly) deep and booming voice. He, as Cardinal Benelli, is dying and he wishes to finally absolve himself of his sins and make his 'Last Confession'. He and his confessor, portrayed by Phillip Craig as less repentant and slightly sinister, begin to weave the tale of two papal conclaves where the election of a new pope is more a matter of politics than religious discussion.
This play, based on the true story of the mysterious death of Pope John Paul I in 1978, is rife with the conspiracies of greed and corruption that sometimes surround the Catholic Church. The set is extravagant, if a little overly complicated at times, causing awkward scene changes. However, the acting was superb. Apart from the peerless David Suchet, another stand out was the Cardinal Luciani, who Richard O'Callaghan portrayed with warmth, empathy, and kindness - na´ve and strong-willed simultaneously.
The Last Confession is partly a murder-mystery, partly a thriller as the cause of Benelli's despair is gradually revealed. The play is a masterpiece of dialogue and suspense. It is filled with intrigue and sanctimony, at once frustrating and fascinating.
The Last Confession does not make conclusions about specific people involved in the death of Pope John Paul I. Indeed, that is not the purpose of the play. It seems to be asking questions around leadership and humanity. Whether a 'good man' can be a good leader and whether human nature, even of those originally called to a life of service and devotion to God, is able to withstand the draw of power.