Roger Crane's Vatican murder mystery The Last Confession takes us inside the labyrinthine world of Papal politics, shedding light on a real life whodunit, and testing the limits of faith
What really happened to Pope John Paul I? Elected pope in 1978, he died only 33 days later in mysterious circumstances. Who better to lead the investigation than David Suchet, best known for his television role as Agatha Christie's beloved Belgian sleuth Hercule Poirot? Suchet leads an all-star cast including Australia's own George Spartels (Neighbours and Play School). Time Out spoke to Sartels in Los Angeles where The Last Confession has been playing to packed houses at the storied Ahmanson Theatre in Hollywood.
Hi George, tell us about your character, Cardinal Lorscheider. He seems to be one of the few virtuous of the cardinals left in the Vatican.
He's a key figure in the two conclaves described in the play, the election of a new pope. He's very influential on David Suchet's character Cardinal Benelli and has a big say in who is chosen as the new pope after the death of John Paul.
How do your own feelings about religion influence your take on Roger Crane's story? Are you a believer?
That goes to the heart of the play really. Benelli is constantly questioning his faith. One of the big questions the play asks is how does an organisation that follows the teachings of Christ fit in and deal with the modern world of business. I've always found that a big questions.
I was a Catholic up to the age of twelve. I'm no long a Catholic. It basically comes down to faith, whether you're prepared to give yourself over to a force greater than yourself. That's a wonderful thing, but I find the tension between the teachings of Christ and the business of the church a little difficult.
Does this play present the Vatican in a positive light?
It does and it doesn't. It's a dialectic. It shows the struggle that is implicit in being a priest or a bishop or a cardinal or a pope. How do you maintain your faith?
Do you remember the September Pope? You would have been in your twenties.
I remember when he died and I remember the shock and the surprise. And straight away there were people making assumptions about what had happened. That's what the play is dealing with, too. The papers at the time were reporting on the various rumours flying around, including the rumour that he was murdered by a faction inside the curia, the governing body of the Church.
You're currently performing the play in LA. What's it like doing live theatre in the movie capital of the world?
It's getting an excellent reception. It broke records in Toronto and here. LA does have a strong theatrical tradition. In the green room of the Ahmanson Theatre there are posters of plays like Whose Afraid of Virginia Woolf with John Lithgow and Glenda Jackson, directed by Albee himself, and Danny Devito in the Sunshine Boy. People do come, and they love it. They stand at the end, I'm not joking, and they cheer and yell bravo. That's for David basically.
It's a big drawcard having David Suchet as Cardinal Benelli. Are you a Poirot fan? Or do you prefer Ms Marple?
I know David so well, so I'm definitely a Poitrot fan. But Angela Lansbury, who is a terrific Ms Marple, was playing in London when I was there rehearsing for The Last Confession, and I really, really like her work, so let's call it a dead heat.