Nicholas Woodeson is perfectly cast as the future Pope Francis in The Two Popes at the Rose All pictures: Manuel Harlan Warning: incense. An unlikely audience caution ahead of a play, but as the curtains part on Anthony McCarten’s The Two Popes at Kingston’s Rose, aromatic smoke does permeate the auditorium. It’s a sumptuous, absorbing
Nicholas Woodeson is perfectly cast as the future Pope Francis in The Two Popes at the Rose
All pictures: Manuel Harlan
Warning: incense. An unlikely audience caution ahead of a play, but as the curtains part on Anthony McCarten’s The Two Popes at Kingston’s Rose, aromatic smoke does permeate the auditorium.
It’s a sumptuous, absorbing production, deftly scripted and peppered with humour, telling the story of Pope Benedict XVl’s decision to retire (the first time in 700 years it had happened), while anointing an Argentinian cardinal – the future Pope Francis – as his successor.
Anton Lesser is Benedict and Nicholas Woodeson is Francis; perfect casting with the witty, popular style of the South American contrasting the rigid formality of the German.
Despite standing down nearly a decade ago, citing physical weakness, the real Benedict is still going at 95.
Many will know the 2019 film with Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce, but their stage versions add another level of depth to the characters in this superb play which, after the last night in Kingston on September 23, is set to tour Cambridge, Cheltenham, Northampton, Oxford and Bath.
Catch it if you can. This is a show worthy of a berth in the West End as director James Dacre, lighting designer Charles Balfour and sound designer David Gregory construct a well-paced spectacle which switches between Rome and Buenos Aires, aided by the talents of the small support cast; Lynsey Beauchamp, Leaphia Darko, Malcolm James and Angela Jones, making her professional debut.
Nearly 10 years after abdicating, the shock of former Cardinal Ratzinger’s decision lingers, with other issues that have gripped the Catholic church – including child abuse by priests and a 25-year halving of the number of believers – skilfully woven into the script.
Woodeson and Lesser generate a curious mix of sympathy and dismay from the audience, with their contrasting characters (one a chillingly strict conservative, the other a football-loving, tango-dancing former nightclub bouncer) symbolising the conflicting ancient and modern wings of the church.
The original music by Anne Dudley, and the grand designs, aided by projections, of Jonathan Fensom, ensure this is one of those Rose evenings that will stay with you for a long, long time.
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