There's another regional double bill for you over at Chichester. At the main house, The Festival Theatre, a new play by first time playwright and New York lawyer Roger Crane, The Last Confession. The play explores the possible murder of Pope John Paul I in 1978; he only reigned for 33 days and it is said was planning to dismiss many of the more reactionary elements of the Curia (effectively the Vatican Government). The play is hopelessly old fashioned, framing device, dialogue and all. You could happily compare it to a Vatican-set Agatha Christie (as the director does in the programme notes), and Hercule Poirot himself, David Suchet, plays the lead role, Cardinal Benelli, moderniser and friend to Pope John Paul I and kingmaker in two Papal Conclaves. Despite its flaws The Last Confession is actually an engaging couple of hours, partly because you are always having to digest new information about how things work and following the motivations of the Cardinals, who is voting for who, etc, and partly because of a brilliant performance from Mr Suchet. The costumes are also highly entertaining, the full panoply of Papal and clerical wear is on show; The Pontiff in White, Cardinals in their blood red capes and curates in black gowns.
Over in the smaller Minerva Theatre, Alan Bennett’s Office Suite (two short plays) gets an undeserved outing. First seen on television in 1978 (also starring Patricia Routledge!), the play is now a museum piece. Focusing on the thrusting new world of work forcing itself into British Offices in the 1970s, Bennett gives us his usual glib universal witticisms and wry observations. In ‘A Visit from Miss Prothero’, Ms Routledge plays the eponymous lady visiting her retired colleague Mr Dodsworth, played admirably by Edward Petherbridge. This is the kind of playlet for people who think Ms Routledge simply entering a room is hilarious, and naturally due to her presence and Mr Bennett’s authorship the play sold out before it opened (it’s going on a regional tour from late May), the conservative Chichester crowd knowing what they like and liking what they know. In ‘Green Forms’, Ms Routledge plays Doreen and Janet Dale plays Doris. Apart from a brief and highly comical appearance from Mr Petherbridge as a inter-office delivery man, we just get Doreen and Doris arguing and then fretting over the appearance of a mystery woman who might be about to make them redundant. In a highly camp flourish at the end of the play this mystery woman is turned into a spitting image of Margaret Thatcher representing the future. I’d just like to point out to director Edward Kemp that most of his audience adore the lady and cheered her heartily. With much of Alan Bennett’s work, especially these pieces, I can’t help feeling they are a celebration of anachronistic and rather petty attitudes (like the small minded Mrs Prothero being turned into a comic heroine), rather than a genuine exploration of a place and time. Not a show that I would recommend to anyone with anything other than middle to polite low brow tastes!