REVIEW: The Pope (Royal & Derngate) ★★★★★
June 14, 2019  //  By:   //  Plays, Reviews  //  Comments are off

The world is changing. Attitudes have changed, as we move towards a society where everyone has the right to be themselves, without stigma: gay, straight, black, white, atheist, Christian… fundamentally we are all the same.

Yet tradition is still important. And for an institution like the Church, which has been around for centuries and provides us with ‘The Truth’, the rapid pace of change is difficult to digest amidst such long-held tradition and belief.

But it is changing. In 2013, Pope Benedict XVI announced his shock retirement. In an almost unprecedented move, he wished to step down and renounce his duties. Just weeks later, Pope Francis – a very different sort of man – had been elected.

In The Pope, Anthony McCarten has taken a story that many are aware of and taken a look behind the scenes. Two very different men, both granted the same divine power. What motivated them? What concerned them? And how could two such contrasting men lead and inspire the world’s flock?

The story of the Papal resignation in itself is not particularly exciting. However, through his use of subtle humour, intimate conversations and minimal actors in each scene, McCarten has created a fascinating work of art. This has been perfectly interpreted on the stage by Director James Dacre, who has perfectly transposed the play.

Anton Lesser is truly excellent. He embodies the character of Pope Benedict XVI in a remarkable way and his performance is mesmerising. Nicholas Woodeson (Cardinal Bergoglio – the future Pope Francis) is also magnificent. The contrast in their characters is fantastic and the stage is alive with tension and anticipation throughout.

However, the touching scenes with the two nuns Sister Sophia (Faith Alabi) and Sister Brigitta (Lynsey Beauchamp) are also delightful, bringing the real human aspect to both men and seeing how their past has shaped the men they have become.

The staging is very effective and Jonathan Fensom has managed to recreate several holy places in an exceptional manner, assisted by beautifully appropriate music from Anne Dudley. Charmian Hoare should also be commended for her voice coaching as the accents were particularly impressive.

The writing is witty, intelligent and engaging, while the actors give almost flawless performances. It invites the audience to reconsider everything they think they know and more than one audience member will be researching this topic.

Reviewed by Michaela Clement-Hayes
Photo: Manuel Harlan

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