‘Cicero: Though Scoundrels Are Discovered’ reviewed

❉ TV’s Dirk Gently Samuel Barnett returns to Big Finish for historical mystery Cicero.

Marcus Tullius Cicero: a mere twenty-six years old, but a rising star in the Forum. Together with his brother, Quintus, Cicero must investigate the murder of Roscius’s father and find the true culprit; but in their quest for justice, the brothers Cicero may be about to make some very powerful enemies indeed…

In the days before the Internet, one had to look up a name like Cicero in this thing called an encyclopaedia, which was a great big book. You might have encountered his name at school if you took Classical Civilisations, and nodded off during tedious lessons of Roman politics, Roman wars, before the Roman empire settled down to become a bloodthirsty soap opera called ‘I Claudius.’ To get to the point, Cicero, we were taught, was an orator, whose speeches in law and political courts won arguments and destroyed reputations. He had the power of persuasion, and that is always very dangerous. His ideas survived to influence Europe ever since. That’s all I remember about him, that and the way he met his end.

Now he is one of Big Finish’s latest stars, and they have dramatized an early case for this two thousand year old lawyer, detective and barrister. This is not quite ‘Rumpole of the Senate’, as in 80BC, when this story is set, Cicero is in his mid-twenties. Despite his youth, he is played with seriousness and gravity by Samuel Barnett, who makes sure that during his advocacy in the trial scenes, he is without the melodrama that Cicero would probably merit in performance as an older and more experienced orator. Rather pleasingly, we eavesdrop on Cicero as he rehearses and memorises his oration, stumbling his way through what would prove to be his making.

Marcus Cicero is backed by his younger brother Quentis, played by George Naylor, who is the contrast to his serious and religious scholarly brother. Quentis is profane, rude, saucy and probably a debauched young man, but backs his brother to the hilt.

Samuel Barnett and George Naylor: The brothers Cicero.

The case Circero is called to defend is from the history books, and was the subject of a BBC2 ‘Timewatch’ reconstruction only a few years ago. A farmer’s son is accused of murdering his father, who had recently been declared an enemy of the state, but it is quite clear that the son has been framed by a couple of corrupt Romans hoping to gain the estates. Every other lawyer has turned down the case as it is politically sensitive, and in Rome, that means lethal. We are dealing with a fascinating time, with its different values and morals, which makes these type of crime dramas all the more interesting. With Cicero’s youth and inexperience frequently commented upon, he is not taken as seriously as other lawyers, but enough to be watched as he does discover the weakness in the prosecution’s case, and is happy to name those who he knows killed the farmer. Different days indeed.

The drama is structured by David Llewellyn in a solid but compelling manner – the investigation, the warnings and threats to back off, the development of the defence, the preparation for the trial and the eventual advocacy. Add into the mix some rather good and non-intrusive music and we have a very satisfying production. The swish of a toga is never that far away.

There is definitely scope for a series here, and it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise if Cicero (and a suitably censored Quentis) pops up in one of Big Finish’s other franchises, no doubt tackling a monster or two but history is, as always, far more interesting without too much embellishment, and the backdrop is as colourful as needs be.

At a download price of a fiver, this is worth a punt to hear something different. ‘Though Scoundrels Are Discovered’ is familiar but alien, both at the same time, and this makes it quite unique enough to be supported.

❉ ‘Cicero’ was released for download on 7 February 2017, RRP £5.00. Samuel Barnett is also one of the stars in Big Finish Classics’ recently-announced 2017 release of Hamlet.

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