Bell Shakespeare rings true as Julius Caesar opens at Heath Ledger Theatre

Kenneth Ransom (centre) with Julius Caesar cast. Picture: Prudence Upton
Kenneth Ransom (centre) with Julius Caesar cast. Picture: Prudence Upton

WHEN Bell Shakespeare last performed a season of Julius Caesar in Perth it was 2011 and you could not help but see correlations to the recent metaphorical backstabbing in the Australian Labor Party.

The Sydney-based company has returned to Heath Ledger Theatre with a new version of the 1599 classic, directed by WA’s James Evans, and the opening-night performance against the backdrop of the world’s current political climate proves this thriller is as pertinent as ever.

Julius Caesar is one of many works the English playwright penned inspired by Roman history, this one surrounding the assassination of Caesar in 44BC – “Beware the Ides of March”.

Evans has set the play in a post-apocalyptic dystopian universe where society is already beginning to crack.

Performing on a relatively stark yet effective set, the inclusive cast of 10 actors shows no limitations when it comes to race or gender.

And it is refreshing to hear them speak in their own accent.

No stranger to Perth audiences, especially of Black Swan State Theatre Company, Kenneth Ransom takes on the title role with a stage presence fit for a leader.

The only downside to his performance is knowing his time will be cut short by historic events.

Nick Simpson-Deeks and Ivan Donato are conspirators Cassius and Brutus respectively and play their pre and post-assassination parts with precision.

A welcome comic relief moment comes from Ghenoa Gela as Casca, who starred in this year’s Fringe World hit Hot Brown Honey.

However the standout is Sara Zwangobani making her Bell Shakespeare debut in the gender-bending casting as Mark Antony.

It may give Shakespeare’s sequel to Julius Caesar, Antony and Cleopatra, which Bell presented earlier this year, a new meaning but the result here is nothing short of a commanding performance.

Her delivery of famous monologue “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears” strikes the right balance of dramatic and heartfelt emotion in the play that shows violence is never the answer for political change.

The use of masks at certain points is cleverly unnerving, as is when the Julius Caesar portrait is removed to write the word ‘freedom’ in his blood.

Julius Caesar is an evening at the theatre to remember, as is that envy is a deadly sin.

The production is on at State Theatre Centre of WA until August 11 before Mandurah Performing Arts Centre on August 14.