This second release from the Big Finish Originals range (the previous being ATA Girl) is a powerful example of how the writers at Big Finish can craft something quite special without the restraints of an established TV show to hinder it.
Writer David Llewelyn has written the six episode epic about the famed Roman lawyer, politician and philosopher who influenced so many with his writings. This particular series covers his early victories in the law courts and subsequent first marriage and retreat into Athens. The scripts are tight and engaging and, despite the length, rarely lose momentum (although it must be said that the final episode is not as climactic as one might expect). The direction by Scott Handcock is excellent and he makes great use of the sound design by Neil Gardner and Rob Harvey and the wonderfully evocative score by Ioan Morris.
We start with a case involving a wrongly accused man that sees Cicero’s fame in Rome increase. As he digs deeper into things he realises that corruption goes to the very heart of the Roman senate and, in particular, the highly influential Claudius Decimus. Llewelyn holds no punches and at times the scripts cover areas not normally covered in Big Finish releases. They are to be applauded for not sugar coating the horrid nature of the corruption in ancient Rome.
The role of Cicero (or more properly, Marcus Tullius Cicero) is played by Samuel Barnett. He brings a certain arrogance at times to his character as well as a lot of vulnerability, particularly in the later episodes when Cicero is unsure of what he needs to do with his life. Playing his more reckless and flawed brother, Quintus, is George Naylor and, together, the pair have an excellent rapport that reminds the listener of a great brotherly relationship.
The supporting cast are all top draw with particular mention to Ben Arogundade as the evil and vicious Claudius, Paul Clayton as the dictator Sulla, and Laura Riseborough as Cicero’s wife Terentia. The rest of the cast are superb in their characterisations too, showing the depth of the Big Finish roster of actors.
There is a bonus 50-minute behind the scenes section with interviews by the cast as well as some interesting outtakes from the recording sessions showing the enjoyment the cast had in making this production.
Like the previous release in this series, it may not appeal to the core audience of Big Finish listeners but this is a set to enjoy when you feel a little overwrought from alien invasions and Daleks. This set evokes the classic BBC serial I, Claudius with clever use of the setting and the records from Cicero himself to craft a wonderful tale that will pull listeners in.
Reviewed by Rodney Hrvatin
Rating out of 10: 9
Distributed by: Big Finish Productions
Released: May 2018
RRP: $21 Digital Download