Imperium, Gielgud London, 4****: William Russell




by Mike Poulton

Based on the Cicero trilogy by Robert Harris


The Gielgud Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue, London W1D 6A7 to 8 September 2018.

Conspirator runs 3hr 25mins Two intervals.

Dictator runs 3hr 10 minsTwo intervals.

The plays are performed on alternate evenings at 7pm

It is possible to see both plays on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Comspirator at 1.30pm & Dictator at 7pm

TICKETS: 0844 482 5151.


Review: William Russell 1 July


Brush up your Cicero

Mike Poulton’s dramatisation s of Robert Harris’s Cicero novels is undeniably relevant to today’s power politics and how leaders behave in their pursuit of controlling the state and the world. It deals with the demise of republican Roman, the rise of Imperial Rome and the part played in all this by Cicero, politician, philosopher, and orator. We have had, and have still, plenty “emperors” who set about destroying democracy for the lessons of history set out in these plays not to hit home.

Poulton has turned the novels into two plays each divided into three acts and each play runs some three and a half hours. It proves a long, exhausting, even if frequently stimulating and exciting, haul. At the centre is a magnificent performance from Richard McCabe as Cicero, orator, politician, dreamer, vain and foolish and a man whose works have influenced people down the centuries. He catches perfectly the way he can be seduced by a pretty boy into believing he is loyal, how he relishes his own victories and wants more. It is a fine warts and all performance.

He is backed by a fine cast and a production by Gregory Doran which manages to catch the sweep of great events perfectly. Mobs rage, armies parade, the stage, dominated by a great globe which changes colour, is always filled with action and intrigue. Doran also uses the theatre audience as the Roman audiences Cicero addresses, a breaking down of the fourth wall which works to stunning effect.

As Octavian Oliver Johnson is chilling as a man intent on his own ends who does not care who is trampled in the process, seductive as Rufus the treacherous acolyte; Siobhan Redmond is an impressive Terentia, Cicero’s long suffering wife; there is a powerful Caesar from Peter de Jersey while as Tiro, the narrator, Cicero’s slave and biographer, Joseph Kloska gets some of the best lines. His cynical comments on his impossibly vain master, the man loves his status as Father of the Republic, are delivered beautifully although the structure of theplays diminishes the impact he has in the novels of which he is the voice, the prism through which we see events.

Essentially this is an ensemble affair with lots of doubling, which sometimes works, sometime does. Joe Dixon’s Cataline and Mark Anthony are too alike for comfort, for instance, although they are, in a way, the same kind of man – drunk, vain, self loving, ambitious and warlike. Individually the performances are fine, although this not the Anthony of Shakespeare, but as a double act it does present problems.

Harris’s novels have been put on the stage in lavish style, and the result is a theatrical feast, the stage equivalent of the books which are, of course, the epitome of a good read. But it is not quite the shattering experience it ought to be. Dreadful though Cicero’s end is somehow Imperium remains basically a very comfortable theatrical event. One does not leave disturbed and appalled at what men who seek power will do.

Also whether the theatre is the best place for it is open to question – each act would make six night long television mini series and that is probably where they belong.

Cicero: Richard MCabe.

Tiro: Joseph Kloska.

Terentia: Siobhan Redmond.

Tullia: Jade Croot.

Quintus: Paul Kemp.

Sositheus/Marcys: Daniel Burke.

Pompey/Vatia: Christopher Saul.

Crassus/Pansa: David Nicolle.

Catiline/Mark Anthony: Joe Dixon.

Julius Caesar: Peter de Jersey.

Verres/Lepidus: Guy Burgess.

Numitorius/Decimus: Andrew Langtree.

Rufus/Octavian: Oliver Johnstone.

Clodius/Agrippa: Nicholas Armfield.

Isauricus/Piso: Patrick Romer.

Catulus/Calenus: Simon Thorp.

Hybrida/Popilius: Hywel Morgan.

Celer/Cassius: Nicholas Boulton.

Cato/Hiritus: Michael Grady-Hall.

Cenethgus/Dolabella: Patrick Knowles.

Camilla/Calpurnia: Alisha Williams.

Lucullus/Brutus: John Dougall.

Clodia/Fulvia: Eloise Secker.

Lictor: Tom Brownlee.

Lictor: Scott Westwood.

Director: Gregory Doran.

Set & Costume Designer: Anthoiny Ward.

Lighting Designer: Mark Henderson.

Composer: Paul Englishby.

Sound Designer: Claire Windsor.

Video Desiugn: RSC Video Department.

Chroreographer: Anna Morrissey.

Fight Director: Terry King.


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