Hail Cicero! All Talk and No Toga. Patrick Marmion Imperium:The Cicero Plays Parts I & II (Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon)Verdict: Triumph of an Unliklely Hero Reviews By

Daily Mail (London), December 29, 2017 | Go to article overview

Hail Cicero! All Talk and No Toga. Patrick Marmion Imperium:The Cicero Plays Parts I & II (Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon)Verdict: Triumph of an Unliklely Hero Reviews By


Byline: Patrick Marmion

HOW ironic that a patriarchal, misogynistic, slave-based society should serve as Robert Harris's model for contemporary politics. But for all the possible misalignment between ancient Rome and modern Britain, Mike Poulton's two-part adaptation of Harris's trilogy of novels for the RSC is remarkable.

Spread over seven hours, it turns on a nimble performance by Richard McCabe as the great philosopher-orator Marcus Tullius Cicero.

McCabe's senator is a camp, avuncular, Machiavellian neurotic who proclaims decent liberal principles by advocating good governance and the rule of law in what is otherwise a febrile gangster state. All talk and no toga, Cicero is not an obvious hero. It's partly thanks to Joseph Kloska, as his cheerful slave and sidekick Tiro, that we get a warmly approving, lightly teasing commentary that makes his master more human.

Through Tiro, Cicero is presented as a wily survivor, dodging murderous plots and internecine civil wars with his gift of the gab.

In a world teeming with alpha predators, McCabe has to see off Peter de Jersey's Julius Caesar -- a smooth but oily panther waiting to seize power -- and Joe Dixon, as a tigerish Mark Antony, who famously defended Caesar after his bloody assassination by Brutus and co at the Capitol.

Poulton exploits the episode as a metaphor for a disorderly Brexit, with senators jockeying for position like MPs today. And there's a good joke about England being a place just outside Europe.

Late on, there's also an understated but exquisite performance from Oliver Johnstone as the teenage Octavian Caesar, who is at first warmly respectful of Cicero, and then coolly megalomaniacal. …

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