Imperium

Previewed 14 June 2018, Opened 30 June 2018, Closed 8 September 2018 at the Gielgud Theatre in London

The Royal Shakespeare Company presents Mike Poulton stage adaption of Robert Harris's Cicero trilogy under the title of Imperium in London for a 13-week season

Performed in two parts - Part One: Conspirator and Part Two: Dictator.

Mike Poulton stage adaption of Robert Harris’ best-selling Cicero trilogy is based on the life, and wily times, of the lawyer, orator and statesman, Marcus Tullius Cicero who was born in Italy in 106 BC and was assassinated in 43 BC, aged 63. Robert Harris’ trilogy comprises of Imperium, Lustrum and Dictator, and these have been adapted by Mike Poulton into six one-act plays which are presented in two performances, each with two intervals.

Imperium I: Conspirator - Told through the watchful eyes of Cicero’s loyal secretary, Conspirator chronicles how the great orator’s early success unwittingly paves the way for a brutal and bloody end to the Republic.

Imperium II: Dictator - With Rome in chaos at the beginning of Dictator, Cicero must use all his brilliance to restore the power of the Senate from the civic mob and their would-be Emperor, one Julius Caesar.

The cast features Richard McCabe as 'Cicero' and Joseph Kloska as 'Tiro', who are both reprising their roles from the Stratford staging. The cast in London also includes Nicholas Boulton, Guy Burgess, Daniel Burke, Jade Croot, Peter De Jersey, Joe Dixon, John Dougall, Michael Grady-Hall, Oliver Johnstone, Paul Kemp, Patrick Knowles, Hywel Morgan, David Nicolle, Siobhan Redmond, Patrick Romer, Christopher Saul, Eloise Secker and Simon Thorp. Directed by Gregory Doran with movement by Anna Morrissey, designs by Anthony Ward, lighting by Mark Henderson, music by Paul Englishby and sound by Claire Windsor.

When this production opened here at the Gielgud Theatre in London's West End in June 2018, Sarah Hemming in the Financial Times praised how, "shaped for the stage by Mike Poulton, the narrative rolls out with the pace and grip of a political box-set... There are many sharp portraits here: Peter de Jersey's charismatic, calculating Julius Caesar; David Nicolle's rich, supercilious Crassus; Joe Dixon's bully-boy Catiline; Nicholas Armfield's dangerous playboy Clodius... But what is never in doubt is Richard McCabe's superlative performance. In his hands, Cicero springs to life, a bag of contradictions: wise, witty, reflective, sharp — but also, as he ages, given to vanity." Dominic Cavendish in the Daily Telegraph thought that, "although it's pacily presented and impressively marshalled, Mike Poulton and director Gregory Doran should have been more ruthless with the material... We feast to bursting on historical fascinations, starve for want of poetry. There's a lot of trooping up and down stone steps - not much journeying into psychological interiors." Ann Treneman in the Times said that "Richard McCabe is magnificent as Cicero, a writer and orator, fierce defender of law who is not above a bit of flattery, back-stabbing and bribery himself... Gregory Doran directs and, although the pace does occasionally lag, the story is always quick to re-engage... The cast is the key here, though. Joseph Kloska, as an amiable Tiro, is a five-star guide. Peter de Jersey, as Caesar, captures the allure of demagoguery. John Dugall is a bumbling Brutus whose every indecision is final. Joe Dixon is a terrific drunken Mark Antony." Henry Hitchings in the London Evening Standard wrote about the transfer: "Now the approach seems less subtle, though Gregory Doran's staging retains a fine sense of spectacle and a strong narrative pulse... The most engaging cast member is Joseph Kloska as Cicero's secretary Tiro, a slave who provides wry commentary on events. There's a nice suppleness and conspiratorial wit in his performance, and Tiro is at his most amusing when aghast at the antics of the supposedly great men who manoeuvre deviously all around him."

Richard McCabe's London stage credits include the role of 'Tropatchov' in Lucy Bailey's production of Ivan Turgenev's Fortune's Fool at the Old Vic Theatre in 2014; role of 'Harold Wilson', opposite Helen Mirren as 'Queen Elizabeth II', in Stephen Daldry's production of Peter Morgan's The Audience at the Gielgud Theatre in 2013; the role of 'Sir Toby Belch' in Gregory Doran's revival of William Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, presented by the Royal Shakespeare Company, at the Duke of York's Theatre in 2009; and the role of 'Austin', opposite Peter Bowles as 'Beau Brummell', in Caroline Hunt's production of Ron Hutchinson's The Beau at the Haymarket Theatre in 2001.

Joseph Kloska's West End stage credits include the role of 'Samuel Ward' in Gregory Doran's production of David Edgar's play Written on the Heart, presented by the Royal Shakespeare Company, at the Duchess Theatre in 2012.

When these two productions where originally seen at the Swan Theatre in Stratford in December 2017, Patrick Marmion in the Daily Mail thought that "Mike Poulton's two-part adaptation of Robert Harris' trilogy of novels for the RSC is remarkable... Like Poulton's adaptation, Gregory Doran's production handles the dense politics with a light touch, which drifts only occasionally into Blackadder territory." Henry Hitchings in the London Evening Standard described how "Mike Poulton writes short, vivid scenes, and director Gregory Doran mostly maintains a zippy fluency... The uncluttered approach allows us to focus on the plays' high-octane rhetoric of power and masculinity. There's a keen interest in the business of 'fake news' and 'alternative facts', but despite its topical resonance this is above all an instructive and entertaining vision of one of history's great self-made heavyweights." Michael Billington in the Guardian praised how "Gregory Doran marshals events with exemplary speed and clarity... this a tremendous show that avoids Hollywooden Cecil B DeMillery and verbal tushery to take us to the heart of ancient Rome. The highest compliment I can pay it is that, after seven hours in the theatre, I felt exhilarated rather than exhausted." Dominic Maxwell in the Times highlighted that "the RSC and Mike Poulton here repeat their trick from the Wolf Hall plays of turning fictional accounts of historical power games into plain-speaking, propulsive, epic theatre. And the director Gregory Doran's poised, beautifully acted productions remind us that the twists and turns are as old as civilisation." Ian Shuttleworth in the Financial Times commented that "the linguistic idiom is contemporary and it unfolds at a reasonable pace over six hours of playing time (plus two intervals in each of the two parts). All in all, though, it feels less compelling than its Tudor-era predecessor, and especially towards the end the alternation of flippancy and sombreness threatens to become formulaic." Dominic Cavendish in the Daily Telegraph said that "I wish I could say there had been no fumbling in this gargantuan undertaking, but broadly speaking there's too much sweat, and not enough blood and tears... the filleting down of Robert Harris's masterwork has yielded few illuminating features... A Herculean effort but oddly underpowered: caveat emptor."

Mike Poulton's London theatre stage adaptations include Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, directed by Jeremy Herrin and presented by the Royal Shakespeare Company, at the Aldwych Theatre in 2014; Ivan Turgenev's Fortune's Fool, directed by Lucy Bailey, at the Old Vic Theatre in 2013; and Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, directed by Gregory Doran, Rebecca Gatward and Jonathan Munby, and presented by the Royal Shakespeare Company, at the Gielgud Theatre in 2006.

This production was originally seen at the Royal Shakespeare Company's Swan Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon (previewed from 16 November 2017, opened on 7 December 2017 and closed on 10 February 2018) with a cast that included Richard McCabe as 'Cicero', Joseph Kloska as 'Tiro', Siobhan Redmond, Nicholas Boulton, Guy Burgess, Daniel Burke, Jade Croot, Peter De Jersey, Joe Dixon, John Dougall, Michael Grady Hall, Oliver Johnstone, Paul Kemp, Patrick Knowles, Hywel Morgan, Lily Nichol, Piero Niel Mee, David Nicolle, Patrick Romer, Jay Saighal, Christopher Saul, Eloise Secker and Simon Thorp.

"This is a mighty undertaking: a seven-hour, two-part theatrical marathon that sprints through Robert Harris's best-selling Cicero trilogy, leaving you enlightened, stimulated, and just a little bit battered and breathless. It's a huge slab of fictionalised Roman history, but if that sounds arid or arduous, don't get your toga in a twist - it isn't... Teeming with colourful characters and political intrigue, it's also steeped in bloody violence. There's back-stabbing, betrayal, sex, ruthless ambition, gory ritual and acts of gruesome vengeance... Richard McCabe is warm, witty, erudite and vain as Cicero; orator, philosopher, lawyer and statesman... Peter de Jersey is a glittering, charismatic Julius Caesar, while Joe Dixon's rabble-rousing Catiline has a hint of Nigel Farage. Christopher Saul's satsuma-coloured and pompous Pompey is a Trumpetting clown... And McCabe never puts a sandalled foot wrong in a staging that is intricate, absorbing and unfailingly vivid." The Metro

"There's a lot of accurate detail in this adaptation of Robert Harris's trilogy about the orator who coined some of Latin's best-known catchphrases ("O tempora, o mores") and depicted himself as the voice of Roman republicanism, only to be shafted by the autocratic Caesars. Or, at least, it's accurate if you believe Cicero's own account, the pen, in this case, having outlasted the sword. The RSC adaptation, served up in two three-course chunks, takes us from Cicero's pomp to his last moments. Mike Poulton has previously adapted great slices of Chaucer, Malory and Hilary Mantel for the RSC... Like Mantel's Thomas Cromwell, Cicero is an ideal guide to his world: self-made, witty and guileful, a born outsider who reaches the inside, but makes the fatal mistake of thinking he's safe there... Cicero, so canny when playing on the dotard faction, so wary of Caesar's ambition, is blindsided by the young. He dismisses backstabbing protégés and is oblivious to Octavian's steely ambition... Were there any women in ancient Rome, you ask? Yes: there were three, apparently. One of them was nasty; one of them was sickly; and one was Terentia, Mrs Cicero, who bankrolled her husband's political ambitions, but is here mostly shown quacking about jewellery and leaving the room when the men discuss business. Siobhan Redmond is wasted, along with half the human race. Does this matter? It makes for a masculine, dick-swinging view of politics — too many bellows-lunged patricians and too much rhetorical manspreading." The Sunday Times

"The adaptation is clear, concise and fast-moving. Poulton cleverly extends the role of Tiro, Cicero's slave and the trilogy's narrator, so that he becomes a Roman equivalent of the Common Man in A Man For All Seasons. He also places him in the tradition of the slave who is cleverer than his master, familiar from the comedies of Plautus. He underlines every possible contemporary parallel, presenting Pompey Magnus as a prototype Donald Trump... The adaptation is only partially successful. With so much of the novels' texture excised, what remains becomes repetitive. Cicero is forced to act to save the Roman Republican ideal from a series of threats that, while superficially different, amount to the same... Gregory Doran's production is surprisingly colourless. Scores of scenes consist of senators sitting on steps to debate the latest crisis. One longs for the rare spectacle of the Vestal Virgins' rites and Caesar's funeral. Too much of the acting is on the same strident note. Worst of all there is virtually no emotional content. Does power politics need to be so dry?" The Sunday Express

Imperium in London at the Gielgud Theatre previewed from 14 June 2018, opened on 30 June 2018 and closed on 8 September 2018