Cardinal Sinne

There’s a strong whiff of Farce about Cardinal Sinne from the off; only that particular genre, after all, requires quite so many doors in a set—in this case three interior doors, one curtained-off recess and a pair of glass patio doors giving access to an unseen garden. This ensures that the characters have the means and opportunities to enter and leave the main stage without encountering each other, enabling the writer to build an increasingly unstable structure of ludicrous ideas and improbabilities.

Not quite as entertainingly as you might have hoped.

Farce, when done well, can be biting; and there is plenty of potential here. The titular Cardinal Sinne — an at times remarkably fragile Grant Smeaton, seemingly at the point of emotional catastrophe — is preparing to leave for Rome to help elect a new Pope. However, for the nominal head of the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland, the day rapidly unravels.

When we first meet him, he’s almost on the point of acting “inappropriately” with a new young student priest — quickly establishing the fundamental conflict between the man’s sexual desires and his role as “an outspoken homophobe” within the Catholic Church.

Then there’s the arrival of an alleged journalist, who turns out to be one of his old “conquests”, now out for recompense or revenge. Just to add to Sinne’s despair, there’s the late arrival of Monsignor Papaleo from a Vatican hierarchy suspicious of Sinne’s unusually liberal attitude to marriage among the priesthood. Very soon, Sinne faces conflicting demands to prove both his heterosexuality and homosexuality, and—as you would expect in a Farce — comes up with some typically cross-dressing stratagems to do so.

As a Joe Orten-esque Farce, however, Cardinal Sinne is undermined on several fronts; despite a uniformly confident cast around him, Smeaton — as director as well as lead —seems unable to build up a sufficient head of steam for the action to properly teeter constantly on the edge of chaos. Not that he’s helped by writer Raymond Burke’s decision to deliberately pause the action throughout with a series of soliloquies, in an presumed authorial attempt to show the social and family pressures of Sinne’s youth which helped make him the man he became. But surely the whole point in Farce is that we shouldn’t wish to sympathise with the central character?

It is also difficult, at this point of time, to watch any such production without relating it directly to the all-too-real fall of Cardinal Keith O’Brien, around whom similar accusations of “inappropriate conduct” with young priests eventually stained his reputation. Cardinal Sinne is not ashamed to riff off some of O’Brien’s more homophobic headlines and his receipt of a Stonewall “Bigot of the Year Award”, yet it also feels a repeated need (and not just for legal reasons, I’m sure) to remain a fictional work aiming to explore more widely “the institutionalised hypocrisy of the religious establishment as it tries to come to terms with sexual modernity.”

This it does but — despite many laughs along the way — not quite as entertainingly as you might have hoped. 

Reviews by Paul F Cockburn

Multiple Venues


Dundee Rep Theatre / Macrobert Arts Centre

The Yellow on the Broom

Underbelly, Bristo Square

Tom Neenan: It's Always Infinity

Assembly George Square Studios

Police Cops in Space

Gilded Balloon Rose Theatre

Rik Carranza: Still a Fan

Gilded Balloon Rose Theatre





The Blurb

What dark secrets lurk beneath the scarlet robes?

Cardinal Sinne, is in the process of packing his bags to fly to Rome and help elect the next Pope. However, before he can leave, he is confronted by a journalist with some awkward questions regarding his own past carnal conduct. Things are further complicated when a Vatican representative also arrives to investigate similar allegations and a lapsed priest appears threatening to reveal all and have him defrocked.

With the help of an eager young seminarian and his loyal but sexually frustrated housekeeper, he endeavours to prove that he is a staunch heterosexual celibate.

A religious romp presented in a mix of traditional comic farce, serious soliloquy and ludicrous litany, ‘Cardinal Sinne’ will investigate the root and responsibility of institutions in their perpetuation of sexual inequality and bias.