"an epic vista of a Roman forum"
-London Theatre-

"some muscular performances"
-The Evening Standard-

"a historic play"
-Broadway World-

Sorry, Imperium I: Conspirator closed on 08 Sep 2018

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"Entertaining, enlightening and rather depressing"

Critic Rating

15 June 2018, Gielgud Theatre
Laura Kressly Laura Kressly
Although Greece is credited as the birthplace of democracy, Ancient Rome further developed the political system and modern-day government is more similar to the Romans than the Greeks. Imperium I: Conspirator is the the first of Mike Poulton’s two-part adaptation of Robert Harris’ Cicero Trilogy, and it's an engaging, if lengthy, examination of changing alliances, betrayals and power struggles in politics of this long-gone empire. Despite being set it Rome, it’s easy to imagine these battles taking place today at Westminster.

It’s 63 BC and Cicero, a provincial lawyer, has upset the political elite by winning the Consulship of Rome. Although an individual can only hold the position for a year, Cicero is the target of an assassination plot, with the aim to overthrow the government - led by his rival, Catiline. Cicero must prove Catiline’s plans to the Senate, keep an eye on the manipulative Julius Caesar, hope Pompey stays away from the capital, lead the government and hold the whole of the Empire together. Cicero’s slave Tiro (a charismatic Joseph Kloska) narrates this insider’s perspective of a secretive world.

It’s compelling stuff. Like House of Cards but set in Rome, the view of the dark corners of the political sphere is equally entertaining, enlightening and rather depressing. Few of these politicians care about the people they govern; instead they are cold, ruthless machines questing for power. Poulton’s script could easily take a dry, academic view of this history, but instead brings this world to life with plenty of conflict and passion.

Gregory Doran directs with immediacy, though his casting is too white and male. There’s no reason to not let women have a crack at these great leaders, and the cast of 25 only has a few actors of colour, and two of them play villains Cataline and Caesar. Frankly, it’s not good enough.

The cast give excellent performances, with Michael Grady-Hall’s passionate Cato and Peter de Jersey’s skulking Caesar being highlights. Richard McCabe's calm and authoritative Cicero convinces the audience he is one of the good guys before revealing there’s little to set him apart from his conniving peers.

True to RSC style, this is a well-told and well-performed story that makes for an engaging evening, but there’s little innovation in style or concept. It’s a fine production, with the script being the best and newest feature. Three hours and forty minutes pass quickly and Rome is brought to life with some powerfully relevant storytelling.

Reviewed by Laura Kressly.

Mark Shenton
Director Gregory Doran - artistic director of the RSC and a dab hand at productions that sometimes look like toga parties - marshals it all with an old-fashioned theatrical momentum and detail. Towering above it all is a riveting, complex performance by RSC veteran Richard McCabe as Cicero.
Henry Hitchings
At the centre of the action is Richard McCabe, whose Cicero is gossipy and adept at self-promotion. His verbal dexterity makes him a star in a society that values brilliant oratory.
Broadway World
A lively imagining of the world and words of Rome, albeit one beset by casting. "I'm not here to discuss women", notes one character. "Pity", says the other.
Sarah Crompton
The themes discussed are serious – the way men (and it is virtually all men) wield power and seek it. But the delivery is energetic.
Dominic Cavendish
Back to back, the marathon entails around six hours of action, much of it packed with the tumultuous intrigue that characterised Rome’s violent transition from Republic to Empire (and the rule of Octavian).