The question, upon seeing that Imperium is a two-part story, is whether you need to see both parts. I understand you have no money, no time and yes both parts are over 3 hours, however, I could argue both for and against seeing both parts. Part I and Part II feel quite contained as stories with Part I focusing on the conspiracy against Richard McCabe’s Cicero and Part II focusing on life after Julius Caesar but I would argue both parts need to be seen for the development of Cicero as a man, an orator and as someone who gives warmth to a cold period of history full of scandal, sex and backstabbing.
I’ve chosen to review them separately because whilst they are coherent productions there are some important developments in both stories which shape how the productions end up. Here is my review of part two, be sure to read my review of part one here.
Imperium II: Dictator
As Caesar grows the Roman Empire Cicero has been in exile. In a moment of reconciliation Cicero can return to Rome and even the Senate but only on Caesar’s terms. It seems Cicero isn’t the only one sick of Caesar’s tyranny. Beware the Ides of March…
Many of the key characters in part I have died and Cicero is older and making the same mistakes as before. The murder of Caesar by his Senate colleagues puts them all into the danger and Marc Anthony (Joe Dixon), Caesar’s expected successor finds himself out of favour when Caesar promises his worldly goods to Octavia. Can Octavia’s promises of forgiveness to Cicero really be as good as they seem?
I found this part much slower and not quite as interesting as Part I. It is a nice conclusion to Cicero’s story but it is lacking the intrigue and twists of Conspirator. There is a section that is basically an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar that feels unnecessary when there is so much more of Cicero’s story to be explored; the relationship with his wife and children, so crucial to part I is a footnote here. There are some interesting scenes, such as Caesar’s funeral where he is now deemed to be a God so his tyranny can continue in death.
As a production overall, it is strong. The great performances make this feel more of an ensemble than McCabe carrying a long production on his own. There is some fantastic sound design to convey the vast senate and the costume design is simple but effective in understanding people’s standings in society (though do we need yet another production that puts mobs of people in hoodies). I would recommend seeing both parts as Part I and McCabe’s performance will leave you wanting more and there are plenty of two-day show opportunities.
Imperium II: Dictator is playing at the Gielgud Theatre through 8 September. Book your tickets here.
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