You can read 19 more articles this month
Imperium Parts I and II
The Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon
MIKE POULTON, adapter of Robert Harris’s trilogy of novels narrating the life of the great Roman orator Cicero, clearly recognises the problems anyone dramatising a novel has to cope with.
There's not only often the weight of plot detail involved, he's said, but also the demands on the linear narrative progression in theatre where, unlike in the novels, audiences cannot check back on incidents and characters.
In choosing Harris’s epic historical sequence, Poulton and RSC director Greg Doran also face inevitable comparison with the company’s house dramatist, especially as all four of Shakespeare’s Roman plays have been on the main Stratford stage this season.
The drama is structured into six playlets, three in each part, each based on Cicero’s involvement with the various players in the power game. They deal with the Cataline conspiracy and Clodius’s attempts to destroy Cicero, the events around the rise and fall of Julius Caesar and the subsequent end of both Cicero and the republic.
During the marathon six-and-a-half hours of both parts, there's a marvellous central performance by Richard McCabe as Cicero, who's onstage most of the time. Yet his efforts and the herculean labours by the 23-strong cast are largely defeated by an intractable task.
Poulton employs Cicero’s secretary/slave as the device to keep the audience in touch with the complexities of his master’s successive political battles to save his beloved Roman republic from power-hungry would-be dictators.
The relationship between Joseph Kloska’s Tiro and his master provide a few moments of respite in a series of legalistic manoeuvrings, punctuated by Cicero’s oratorical triumphs in the senate.
Both Joe Dixon’s Mark Antony — no cunning forum speech-maker but a debauched, wife-dominated swaggerer — and John Dougall’s weak and vacillating Brutus are barely recognisable from Shakespeare’s political enemies.
There are attempts to inject humour into the relentless progression of events. The audience readily recognises Christopher Saul’s bumptious bully Pompey with his bouffant Trump hair and driver’s OK hand signals, but, apart from McCabe’s ability to register subtle mood changes, characterisation is two-dimensional, compensated for by high-decibel delivery throughout.
As a serialised TV production, with a variety of locations and judicious editing, Imperium might hold the attention. It would enable the grotesque pantomime of political power-play, as demonstrable today as in ancient Rome, to engage the attention more than this worthy but rather static stage treatment.
Runs until February 10, box office: rsc.org.uk
You can’t buy a revolution, but you can help the only daily paper in Britain that’s fighting for one by joining the 501 club.
Just £5 a month gives you the opportunity to win one of 17 prizes, from £25 to the £501 jackpot.
By becoming a 501 Club member you are helping the Morning Star cover its printing, distribution and staff costs — help keep our paper thriving by joining!
You can’t buy a revolution, but you can help the only daily paper in Britain that’s fighting for one by become a member of the People’s Printing Press Society.
The Morning Star is a readers’ co-operative, which means you can become an owner of the paper too by buying shares in the society.
Shares are £1 each — though unlike capitalist firms, each shareholder has an equal say. Money from shares contributes directly to keep our paper thriving.
Some union branches have taken out shares of over £500 and individuals over £100.
You can’t buy a revolution, but you can help the only daily paper in Britain that’s fighting for one by donating to the Fighting Fund.
The Morning Star is unique, as a lone socialist voice in a sea of corporate media. We offer a platform for those who would otherwise never be listened to, coverage of stories that would otherwise be buried.
The rich don’t like us, and they don’t advertise with us, so we rely on you, our readers and friends. With a regular donation to our monthly Fighting Fund, we can continue to thumb our noses at the fat cats and tell truth to power.
Donate today and make a regular contribution.