The Last Confession, by Roger Crane | Directed by Jonathan Church

TRH Productions | Theatre Royal, Sydney | Until 12 October

One of the great things about attending the theatre regularly is to occasionally watch from just 20 or 30 metres one of the world’s great actors plying their trade.

David Suchet, best known as Hercule Poirot in the Agatha Christie TV series of the same name, certainly fits into that category.

And equally certainly he doesn’t disappoint in The Last Confession, striding the stage with complete authority, constantly exuding that ‘je ne sais quoi’ X-factor, as Cardinal Giovanni Benelli, one of the Vatican’s pope makers and a man who could easily have himself been a pope.

I don’t have much interest in the politics of the Catholic church or in theology generally, but I was absolutely enthralled by Roger Crane’s insightful thriller based on the short, 33-day reign of Pope John Paul I (Richard O’Callaghan), and the somewhat suspicious nature of his death.

Put simply, it’s a great yarn, a wonderful whodunit of which Christie herself would have been proud.

There were obviously many in the Vatican, including within the Curia, its central administrative body, that had plenty to fear and loath about the reformist tendencies of Pope John Paul I, who, despite apparent managerial weaknesses, had great resolve about wanting to make the Catholic church more relevant to the masses.

That really is at the heart of The Last Confession. As well as being an enthralling whodunit, it’s about the wisdom or even feasibility of taking on, and trying to reform, a conservative, monolithic institution sporting years — in this case, centuries — of inertia and carrying almost any number of vested interests.

And right now, with Pope Francis clearly determined to change the Catholic church’s outlook and become a truly ‘people’s pope’, the play has attained outstanding relevance.

It’s a work that deserves and needs the big stage that only a venue such as the Theatre Royal can provide.

The elaborate, constantly changing, set design, the richness of the costumes, the clever lighting, and strong all-round performances from the large cast add up to a very memorable, thought-provoking night of theatre.

David Suchet.

Richard O’Callaghan and David Suchet.