“Imperium” builds Rome in a day. Robert Harris’ trilogy of novels charts the city’s slide from a great civilization to a grim imperial power, as democracy buckles and dictatorship digs in. Onstage, in “Wolf Hall
” adaptor Mike Poulton
’s adaptation for the Royal Shakespeare Company
, now newly arrived in London’s West End, it plays like a grand history cycle: the errors of one era give rise to those of the next. It might be set in antiquity, but contemporary resonance is close at hand.
Ostensibly a biography of Marcus Tulius Cicero — lawyer, orator and senator — as told by his slave-cum-secretary Tiro (Joseph Kloska
), “Imperium” is most illuminating on the machinations of political power. While Richard McCabe
’s calculating, quick-witted Cicero charms his way to a unanimous electoral victory as Rome’s new consul, a crowd of his rivals are on political maneuvers.
Poulton uses the language of the present to survey the past,