Friday, June 14, 2019

'The Pope' by Anthony McCarten

14 June 2019

The Royal Theatre in Northampton is on an impressive run of form. The last three home-grown productions we have seen there have all been excellent ('Ghosts' by Henrik Ibsen, reviewed here in April 2019, 'The Remains of the Day' by Kazuo Ishiguro, reviewed here in March 2019, and 'Our Lady of Kibeho' by Katori Hall, reviewed here in January 2019). Royal and Derngate Artistic Director James Dacre’s production of Anthony McCarten’s new play ‘The Pope’, which we saw at the Royal Theatre on Thursday, maintains this glowing track record. Anthony McCarten is an award-winning screenwriter and film producer whose credits include ‘The Theory of Everything’, ‘Darkest Hour’ and ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ – all fictionalised versions of relatively recent events. ‘The Pope’ is an even more contemporary tale, looking at the decision  in 2013 of Pope Benedict XVI to resign – the first Pope to do so for more than 700 years. Anton Lesser plays Pope Benedict with Nicholas Woodeson as Cardinal Bergoglio (the future Pope Francis). The play has a simple and very effective structure, with mirrored scenes in the first half in which both men explain their intentions to female confidantes before the two of them come together for an extended dialogue to attempt to resolve their impasse. The script is remarkably witty – very funny without ever being disrespectful – and the play focuses on the contrasting characters of two men with a common purpose. Anton Lesser and Nicholas Woodeson are wonderful – it’s a great two-hander.

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