The Two Popes ★★★★ Rose Theatre | September 9 - 23, 2022


In a time when there is a great deal of talk about succession and about the effect that a change of individuals at the top might have on a long-standing institution, The Two Popes by Anthony McCarten might seem a particularly apt piece of theatre. The resignation of Benedict XVI in 2013 was a shocking event. It was the first time in 700 years that a pope had resigned, and his successor seemed to be a very different individual from the so-called "prince of the status quo." Argentinian Cardinal Bergoglio, later known as Francis I, appeared to be a reformer. Time has shown that this contrast between the two men, while dramatically satisfying, might have been a rather unreal proposition. In retrospect The Two Popes seems rather ironic as it sets up a dialogue between two individuals while almost ignoring their context as part of a religious institution. McCarten's play underestimates his protagonists' roles as political beings within a highly politicised organisation even as it explores their unhappy compromises in the realm of national politics. Nevertheless, the story offers absorbing character studies with some always apposite arguments about faith and practice. Anton Lesser is quite wonderful as the crotchety and scholarly Benedict, while Nicholas Woodeson is totally engaging as the more worldly and humane Bergoglio. These are performances that brilliantly bring to life the dilemmas faced by two men as they pursue their own spiritual quests and interact with the secular world. The Two Popes is a first-rate production of an engaging and timely theatrical work.

Rated: ★★★★

Reviewed by J.C.
Photo by Manuel Harlan.

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