Cicero by David Llewellyn (book review).

Marcus Tullius Cicero was a political writer, a powerful orator and statesman who came to a rather sticky end in 43BC on the way to Macedonia. He was seeking to escape after falling out of favour with the new government of Rome. There weren’t any deselect ions or impeachments in ancient Rome but there were a lot of political deaths, just ask Julius Caesar who Cicero only briefly survived. Cicero was a commentator and his letters to his friend, Atticus, describe a lot of what we know about events two thousand years ago.

This series of plays by Big Finish consists of six stories just under an hour each written by David Llewellyn, long standing BF writer. Cicero is played by Samuel Barnett who gave great life to Dirk Gently in the eponymous Netflix series. Cicero here is a young and occasionally foolish lawyer who as a morally upright citizen can only dream that others would follow his lead. His behaviour is nicely counterpointed by his brother Quintus (George Naylor) who leads a much more unlicensed life. This can get them both into trouble.

Episode I: Though Scoundrels Are Discovered: This was the only episode with a title as it was previously released as a pilot to see how much interest there was in the classical life of a Roman lawyer who became as famous as Julius Caesar. His new client is dismayed by his youth as she asks him to defend a young farmer, Sextus Roscius (Simon Ludders), from the truly awful crime of parricide. This audio fleshes out one of Cicero’s most acclaimed cases which sets him against the establishment from the start. He uncovers a cesspit of corruption that makes him more determined to be a man with a strong moral core. A particular clever flourish here is having Quintus prepping Marcus for the trial and develop his oratorical style. This case helps make Cicero’s reputation and sets up his character and code for the rest of the series.

Episode II: There’s pride before a fall. Marcus Tullius Cicero is now very much in demand and he can pick and choose his cases. Unfortunately, he’s still young and it quite easy to over-reach yourself when you’ve never heard of hubris. A woman who has been put aside for a younger wife she has no right to see her children or remain in Rome when she is not a citizen. So when discarded wife Vitellia (Deirdre Mullins) asks Cicero to investigate her case, it brings out the injustice in society. It also makes him dangerously close to the orbit of her ex-husband Claudius and the retired dictator, Consul Sulla. These are perilous times indeed.

Episode III. ‘Get Me To The Church On Time’: Finally, some good news. A marriage has been arranged and it’s time for Marcus Tullius to meet the bride. There is some very witty dialogue and new insight into the character of Cicero. Laura Riseborough is the potential wife Terentia and her sister Fabia, a Vestal virgin, is played by Katherine Pearce. There’s no rest as Marcus Tullius must sort out a mess of his brother’s making the day after the wedding.

Episode IV: That moral code again makes life very difficult for Marcus Tullius and brother Quintus. As a direct consequence of events around his marriage, the brothers are forced to consider taking action. The dilemma will take them into danger. It also makes the listener consider both the differences and similarities in modern morality.

Episode V: Well, I’ll be tickled. The return of an old friend causes Cicero’s wife some consternation as they seem so close. But there is danger to Cicero from those he has already upset in his various legal cases plus his extra activity outside of the forum.

Episode VI: A change of scene as Cicero thinks it politic to leave Rome. He’s at a turning point both in his public and his personal life. Cicero is considering where the road to the future will lead and what decisions he might make. Will the change be as good as a rest?

Extras: Behind the Scenes: These consist of chats and discussions about each of the six episodes with the different actors. It’s a nice bit of background and there are even funny outtakes at the end.

The subject matter sounds like it could have been dry as dust, this is commented on by one of the actors, but there is a real dynamic in the scripts. There is witty wordplay, casual threats and more veiled intimations of violence. Indeed, it’s also what is left unsaid that gradually becomes apparent. The language used is not overly complicated, pronunciation notwithstanding and the conversations are believable. There is also humour in the dramas which help to balance the darker moments. It is well constructed with a sparing music soundtrack by Ioan Morris and Rhys Downing with sound design by Neil Gardener that puts you on the streets of Ancient Rome. It really is audio drama at its best.

‘Cicero’ originally featured in the Doctor Who story ‘Tarturus’ appearing with the Fifth Doctor, Tegan and Nyssa. He will return in a Big Finish Original ‘Cicero: The Crossroads’ later this year. Both of these are also written by David Llewellyn.

Sue Davies

February 2021

(pub: Big Finish, 2021. download 57 minutes. Price: £ 4.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-78703-071-8)

cast: Samuel Barnett, George Naylor, Stephen Critchlow, Youssef Kerkour, Simon Ludders, Elizabeth Morton, Deirdre Mullins and Katherine Pearce

check out website: https://www.bigfinish.com/releases/v/cicero-episode-1-1605

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.