It’s Rome, 80 BC, a time of conspiracy, gladiators, uncertainty and unease. In this world, Marcus Tullius Cicero (Samuel Barnett) forges a career as a lawyer. Cicero is young but there are those who sense he may amount to something one day, if he can but survive the present. With his brother Quintus (George Naylor), he has to take on the kind of case nobody else will. If not, where will the money for olives and wine come from?
In David Llewellyn’s story there is a murdered landowner, and all the evidence points to his son Sextius Roscius (Simon Ludders) being guilty. Cicero must probe the murky underbelly of Rome’s elite to find the truth, and avoid making powerful enemies.
Given Samuel Barnett’s current success as Dirk Gently, he rightfully takes centre stage as the more thoughtful and introverted of the two brothers. Quintus does have his own depths though, and while the heart of the story is the investigation into the death of Roscius’s father, we also have a forum scene where Cicero must make the speech that will sway the judges. Quintus acts as coach and morale booster and the relationship between the brothers feels well thought out. The story is a curious mix of historical, detective and courtroom, and feels almost too modern in some ways. This speaks more, perhaps, to the complexity of Roman culture even though it lies some two thousand years in our past.
Samuel Barnett is compelling in the lead role, and has his own emerging gravitas in the major court speech. He is meant to be young and forging a reputation, and this is the person presented in the story. Scott Handcock’s direction is as precise as ever, and the whole piece is a delight.
With the end of the Dorian Gray range, there is space for a new range in the busy Big Finish panoply of productions, and if ever there was a story released as a taster for a new series, Cicero is definitely it. There are plenty of other examples of ancient detective stories, and Cicero was a real person, living at a fascinating time in history. If there is more they will be worth a listen and there is every possibility of success, though perhaps not a guarantee. Samuel Barnett’s schedule and market forces will decide.
Overall this delivers exactly what you’d expect from the description; no less and no more.
CICERO / DIRECTOR: SCOTT HANDCOCK / AUTHOR: DAVID LLEWELLYN / PUBLISHER: BIG FINISH / STARRING: SAMUEL BARNETT, GEORGE NAYLOR, SIMON LUDDERS, ELIZABETH MORTON, STEPHEN CRITCHLOW / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW