The Last Confession

Though it failed to thrill, this didn’t ruin it for NANCY NAPPER CANTER.

harry sheehan Lewis Owen nancy napper-canter the last confession tim squirrel

Fitzpatrick Hall, Queens’ College, 7.30pm, £5/6

Dir. Harry Sheehan

For a ‘thriller’, this never really thrills. For an evening’s entertainment, however, it’s perfectly engaging.

The Last Confession is essentially a whodunit, but takes a close look at pope culture – with all its avaricious wheeling and dealing – along the way.

The plot gets going when, on the death of Pope Paul VI, a young son-of-a-bricklayer called Luciani is reluctantly appointed Holy Father. Luciani is a walk taker, a coffee drinker, the sort of Pope who approves of test tube babies. The other priests are far from happy. So when Luciani dies of a heart attack thirty three days after he was elected, suspicions are rightly aroused.

Tim Squirrel does a fine job as Luciani, lending ‘the smiling pope’ a convincingly likeable air. It’s an engaging performance, and one that firmly locates our sympathy with his character, as it should be. He is, however, upstaged by Lewis Owen as Cardinal Beneli.

Playing the guilt laden confessor of the title, Owen has fine poise. Beneli had the authority to ensure Luciani’s death was given the scrutiny it deserved, but knew that doing so would scupper his shot at Popedom. Looking back on his decision as he confesses, Beneli is particularly tortured – and ‘tortured’ is something at which Owen excels. The scenes of the confession itself (as opposed to the flashbacks that dominate the play), are the best in the play.

There’s some strong acting, but a few things niggle. A tendency to over-enunciate among several of the actors made me particularly grateful for Owen’s measured delivery.

Alex Brown as Pope Paul VI similarly judged his delivery nicely, but his performance was slightly undermined for me by an inconsistency. When he first arrived, Paul was supported as he walked, but in a later scene he was sufficiently upright and stable to make the line, ‘we are seventy nine years old’ come as a shock.

Fitzpatrick Hall’s stage easily facilitates a show with a fifteen man cast. But if the scenes in which lots of the priests are onstage are logistically comfortable, they’re never as good as those that focus on one or two characters. The plot is, like the stage, often very busy, and the play struggles to maintain the tension required throughout; while the interrogation scenes following the fifteen minute interval are well done, audience energy levels did lag at points during the second act.

There are glimpses of four star standard acting here. However, neither acting nor direction is consistently strong enough to allow this to live up to the name of its genre.