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British actor David Suchet

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David Suchet's Musical Confession

photo by Casey Curry // The Seattle Times

David Suchet // Limelight

The actor discusses the power of Mozart, duetting with his wife and taking up the clarinet late in life.

Music has touched me in so many areas of my life, going right the way back to being a teenager. My brother formed a jazz band at school and in the holidays he and his mates used to come to our house and play trad jazz. He was a great musician, my brother John. He played the clarinet, trombone, violin, the piano — everything. He was a natural musician. I was not. Anyway, I learned to play the drums. So my introduction to music, to use the classical term, would be as a percussionist.

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Jo Litson // Sunday Telegraph

In 1985, David Suchet played Inspector Japp in a film of Agatha Christie’s Thirteen at Dinner with Peter Ustinov as Poirot. Fortunately he wasn’t very good. Had he been, he may never have taken on the role of Poirot himself.

Suchet, of course, played Christie’s fastidious little Belgian detective in 74 telemovies over 25 years, winning millions of fans around the world.

In between his Poirot commitments, he returned regularly to the stage though he wasn’t able to undertake a long run. However, after Poirot’s death in the final episode last year, Suchet now has the time to tour internationally in a play by Roger Crane called The Last Confession, currently in Australia. Set in the Vatican it is billed as “a thriller” set around the sudden (some think suspicious) death of Pope John Paul I in 1978.

Next, he plays Lady Bracknell in Oscar Wilde’s “trivial comedy for serious people” The Importance of Being Earnest in London’s West End.

During a quick media stop-over in Sydney before the start of the tour in Perth, the thoroughly charming, genial British actor took time to talk about saying goodbye to Poirot, his current role in The Last Confession, his conversion to Christianity, Twitter and the chance to play Lady Bracknell.

“The Last Confession” at the Ahmanson in L.A.

Rita Moran // Ventura County Star

David Suchet brilliantly defines the tortured soul of a Catholic cardinal caught in Vatican politics at a time of papal transition. The leading actor in a company of excellent cohorts, Suchet lends passion and nuance to his role as Cardinal Giovanni Benelli, the man seeking to make “The Last Confession” that may free him of the pain and guilt he feels at the sudden death of Pope John Paul I, who reigned only 33 days in 1978. John Paul I’s death after such a brief period is the focus of attorney Roger Crane’s well-researched drama. The current production originated in Toronto at the Chichester Festival Theatre and now is playing at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles, the only U.S. stop in a tour that next heads to Australia.

Suffice it to say that there is not a soupçon of Hercule Poirot, the Agatha Christie character Suchet brought to meticulous life for countless TV seasons, in the actor’s masterful portrayal of a man who tried to edge the church back toward the open-air principles of Pope John XXIII’s 1962 Second Vatican Council.

The Taper's Vatican Action

photo by Craig Schwartz

Jeff Favre // Los Angeles Downtown News

 

The enjoyable and occasionally fascinating play, which explores the Catholic church hierarchy and the theories surrounding the quick rise and fall of Pope John Paul I, premiered in London in 2007. The continued scandals in the church, mixed with the apparently reform-minded new pope, make Crane’s artful mix of fact and fiction even more relevant today.

Set in 1978 and starring David Suchet, best known for portraying the mystery-solving Hercule Poirot on British TV, The Last Confession runs through July 6 at Downtown’s Ahmanson Theatre. It’s the production’s only American stop before heading to Australia.

Suchet’s name above the title may not drive American audiences to the theater, nor will Crane — a lawyer with no other theater credits — but fans of political drama will find plenty to appreciate, despite a few clunky elements.

TV’s Poirot, Suchet, Sleuths and Shoots the Papal Bull

Ed Rampell // LA Progressive

Roger Crane’s The Last Confession is first rate drama at its best. Not only does it tackle the big issues but it also has a top notch cast that delivers solid, riveting performances. The ensemble is rather cannily led by David Suchet, who from 1989 to 2013 has portrayed Inspector Hercule Poirot on TV adaptations of Agatha Christie’s celebrated sleuth.

The major topics that Confession takes on are the role of religion and the behind-the-scenes infighting of Holy Mother Church, which is both a spiritual as well as a temporal power. As the latter, Vatican City is literally an independent state and as the earthly representative of the official creed of almost a billion people, it’s also a political and economic entity to be reckoned with. Viewers of 1990’s third installment of The Godfather saga may be familiar with the Vatican’s purported banking scandals and Mafioso ties.

After Albino Luciani, aka Pope John Paul I (Richard O’Callaghan in a moving performance), replaced Pope Paul in 1978, he lasted only 33 days as the pontiff, triggering conspiracy theories about foul play in the Vatican. Thus the sheer genius of casting Suchet as Vatican powerbroker Cardinal Giovanni Benelli, who investigates the death of the benevolent man who turned out to be far more liberal than the conclave of cardinals had expected, and only wore the shoes of the fisherman for a month before his mysterious death. His demise occurred shortly after he purportedly attempted to remove entrenched Vatican bureaucrats from their sinecures of power. Suchet’s sleuth lives again — although not as a suave Belgian in this theatrical whodunit. This time he’s an Italian cardinal trying to crack the case of: Who murdered the pope?

Curtain Call: As He Stars in a Play About the Pope, David Suchet Describes his Journey of Faith

Craig Byrd // Los Angeles Magazine

The death of Pope John Paul I in 1978 after only 33 days as the head of the Catholic Church has intrigued storytellers and true crime fans, alike. Francis Ford Coppola used it as a subplot in The Godfather III. Roger Crane, a lawyer, uses the Pope’s sudden death and the search for his replacement as the backdrop for his first play, The Last Confession. Though more than just a whodunit, it stars David Suchet, an actor who’s famous for his performance as inspector Hercule Poirot in 74 episodes of Masterpiece Mystery!

In this case, Suchet isn’t playing an impeccably groomed Belgian detective; he’s using his little grey matter to look into whether or not Pope John Paul I was murdered. He plays Cardinal Benelli, a man who was considered the Pope’s possible successor but instead rallies support for cardinal Albino Luciani (Richard O’Callaghan). After John Paul’s death, Benelli is relentless in pursuing the truth until it butts heads with his own aspirations.

The Last Confession debuted with Suchet in the central role at the Chichester Festival Theatre in England in 2007. He’s revisiting the play for a tour that began in Toronto and travels to Australia after the show ends its run in Los Angeles. “I’ve just had lunch with my playwright,” says Suchet. “He told me it changed radically from 2007 because of my own faith journey. It’s not just being a Vatican whodunit with the actor who played Poirot heading the investigation. It’s much deeper and more complex. This is an angry man, a frustrated man, and a man full of faults that he’s able to admit. He’s a man searching for true faith within a huge corporation that is ruled by power and money, which is called the church. Benelli’s weakness is pride; if he can become Pope, even without faith, he’ll still go for it.”

“Last Confession” was far from forced

Paul Hodgins // Orange County

Imagine you’re a first-time playwright and you find out that a famous actor is interested in your script.

Now imagine waiting a decade for that lucky break to turn into a world premiere. Imagine being close to retirement age when you finally see your words performed on stage.

“It’s a fascinating story, isn’t it?” said David Suchet. The 68-year-old British actor, a familiar face on TV and film, is perhaps best known for his portrayal of eccentric Belgian super-sleuth Hercule Poirot in the long-running series “Agatha Christie: Poirot.”

“I go back with this particular piece a long time,” Suchet said of Roger Crane’s “The Last Confession,” which opens Wednesday at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles. Crane, a New York lawyer, had never written a complete play before, and his inexperience showed, Suchet said. “When it was first sent to me, I said no. It wasn’t ready then to be performed.”

The central character in Crane’s play is Giovanni Benelli, the archbishop of Florence and a member of the Vatican hierarchy, who thinks that the untimely death of Pope John Paul I in 1978 after only 33 days in office looks suspicious.

“I loved the idea; a conspiracy-theory piece was very intriguing to me,” Suchet said. “But the character of Benelli wasn’t quite fully formed, and the play needed to be cut. I’m not a dramaturge; I don’t understand how to do that.”

“Last Confession”: Theater Review

Myron Meisel // The Hollywood Reporter

English actor David Suchet, best known for his long-running TV role as Agatha Christie’s detective Poirot, stars in a story of corruption at the Vatican.

Organized around the star wattage of David Suchet, the celebrated and prolific British theater actor best known worldwide for his 74 television films as Agatha Christie’s detective Hercule Poiret, The Last Confession makes for a rather wan touring vehicle for his talents. Suchet originated the real-life role of Cardinal Giovanni Benelli at the Chichester Festival in 2007 and continued with a West End run, and this somewhat fusty enterprise, in Los Angeles en route from Toronto to all major Australian cities, charmingly recalls a tradition of the barnstorming impresario rarely encountered any longer in more cosmopolitan climes.

Pope John XXIII died the year after he convened the Second Vatican Council, the most comprehensive reform enterprise in Catholic Church history, leaving its ambitions only partially realized. Conservative cardinals comprising the all-controlling centralized administration, The Curia, engineered the election of Paul VI (John O’May), a supporter of the reforms in principle but terminally equivocal in action. In the last year of his reign, nearly 80, Paul elevates the independent-minded Benelli to Cardinal of Florence, positioning him to become the next Pope. But Benelli, determined to thwart the reactionaries, become the kingmaker instead, anointing a pure-hearted pastoral priest, Cardinal Albino Luciani of Venice (Richard O’Callaghan), who adopts the conciliatory moniker John Paul I.

“Last Confession” takes earnest look at reform, power struggle

Charles Mcnulty // Los Angeles Times

David Suchet, best known for his television portrayal of Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot, plays another canny scrutinizer of nefarious human behavior in Roger Crane’s “The Last Confession,” a straightforward political drama sexing itself up as a religious whodunit.

In this Chichester Festival Theatre production, which has its only U.S. stop at the Ahmanson Theatre, Suchet plays Cardinal Giovanni Benelli, a Vatican moderate who was considered a leading candidate to become pope but instead became the power behind the Supreme Pontiff after helping to make Pope John Paul I, whose papacy lasted a mere 33 days.

The conspiracy theories instigated by this untimely death would be enough to make Dan Brown’s mouth water, and Crane takes advantage of the mysterious circumstances that some believe point to murder.

But his main objective isn’t solving this most holy of cold cases. “The Last Confession” earnestly engages issues of reform and backlash, wondering whether it’s wise or even feasible for an idealistic new leader to attempt to radically transform an institution with entrenched interests and intransigent elites.

Roger Crane's “Last Confession” Stops at Ahmanson on International Tour

Don Grigware // Broadway World

In the history of the Roman Catholic Church, one papal election curiously stood apart. After Pope Paul’s death in 1978, a compromise pope was elected, Albino Luciani, who named himself Pope John Paul I. His reign lasted a mere 33 days when, in apparent good health, he died suddenly, creating the suspicion of murder. The Last Confession by Roger Crane explores this time period in Roman Catholic history with a keen eye for details and propelling fine dramatic exchanges. Headed by resourceful actor David Suchet as Cardinal Giovanni Benelli, the cast, mostly from England, is a sturdy lot, and most likely only those repulsed by religion and/or politics will find the action less than intriguing, through July 6 only.

The issue most raised by the cardinals in the play: Divine Providence and human intervention. Where do you draw the line? Well, quite honestly, through the years tradition has won out, meaning little has changed; what was begun in 1962 by the Vatican Council to re-examine doctrine and its practicality to human issues has not yielded significant results. Human intervention — searching for ways to save men’s souls — has been and continues to be fruitless, a fact that Roger Crane supports in making Benelli burn his confession at play’s end. He was outnumbered by greed and power, so his cause hit a brick wall. Benelli himself was power hungry: he vied for the Papal office. In fact, he ignored Pope John Paul, whom he had helped to become Pope, because he desired a promotion. In the process, he also lost his faith. So neither was he what one would call a saint. His suspicions of murder and quest for the truth, however, did drive him forward with a some degree of integrity... until the Cardinals offered him a chance as their prime candidate for Papal replacement. Deceit, greed for power and money have become synonymous with the Vatican; it is no small wonder when man turns his back on the Church, seeing it as another corrupt corporation. All the while these men, who call themselves priests, excuse their actions as the will of God. As far as assisting third world countries, they hypocritically assert (or are they truly blind?): “The Church has no place in politics”. What a laugh!

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