The political and social upheaval in ancient Rome that surrounded the assassination of Julius Caesar is compelling human drama, whether as pure history, or entertainment of the calibre of Shakespeare’s play. This minimalist production’s uneven cast doesn’t always convey the timeless drama of the Bard’s words, however, which is surprising for a company that’s surely about achieving just that.

Kenneth Ransom in Julius Caesar. Photographs © Prudence Upton

Probably first performed at the new Globe Theatre in 1599, Julius Caesar is more focused on the group of conspirators who murder him than the man himself. No sooner has the play begun, as Caesar returns in triumph to Rome, than Cassius approaches Brutus to plant the idea that the leader may be reaching for too much power, and should be assassinated for the good of the republic. Though Brutus is Caesar’s friend and ally, he soon agrees, and the deed is done. Mark Antony and Octavius remain true to Caesar even after death, and civil war erupts. The conspirators are undermined by in-fighting and, in Brutus’ case, the ghost of Caesar, and are ultimately defeated.

Directed by James Evans, Bell Shakespeare’s new production strips Julius...