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Cicero's portrayal is a spellbinding triumph

Imperium Part II (Dictator), Swan Theatre, Stratford, until February 10.

From his grave, the murdered Caesar rises to denounce his enemies, his voice deep and muffled beneath the brazen mask he wears.

It's a stunning moment in this tale of conspiracy and lethal ambition, set right at the tipping point between Republic and Empire. And the trapdoor that makes it happen is used to such effect in this production that it deserves a programme casting credit all of its own.

Marcus Tullius Cicero himself, right at the end, is borne aloft in similar fashion, restored in epilogue to the robust, self-assured statesman we saw in Part I of this adaptation of Robert Harris's huge but intricate Imperium trilogy of novels. For Cicero, Part II has been a long and winding road to destruction, triggered by his failure to resist the fatal temptation of believing his own PR, as the man who has already saved the Republic once and can do it again.

He can't, of course. As he is constantly being reminded, he's a man with no military experience, while all of those he must battle with, from Julius Caesar down, are masters of the art of war. And there's an end to it.

For the Royal Shakespeare Company, Imperium, like Wolf Hall before it, may prove no more than an interesting distraction from the day job. As ever, the production values are terrific, the supporting cast never less than watchable, but in Richard McCabe's performance as our conceited, flawed hero, it has unearthed a Triumph almost as big as a Caesar's.

Pictured by Ikin Yum are Peter de Jersey as Caesar and Richard McCabe as Cicero.

See also our review of Part l of Imperium.

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