Australian Shakespeare Company, Royal Botanic Gardens, until February 9
Whether we’re talking audiences or performers, lovers of Shakespeare haven’t been spoilt for choice in Melbourne lately. There have been some dashing, cinematic productions from Simon Phillips at the Melbourne Theatre Company – but the major company dedicated to the Bard’s work, Bell Shakespeare, has proved notoriously unreliable under Peter Evans and the standard of acting (especially in touring shows) is often enough to embarrass and depress.
In those circumstances, it is perhaps unsurprising that Glenn Elston’s al fresco Shakespeare in the Royal Botanic Gardens has begun attracting higher quality casts. It’s certainly the case with this year’s Hamlet, which possesses a field of talent of some depth and delivers an enjoyable and solid – if heavily abridged and no-frills – version of what is arguably Shakespeare’s greatest tragedy.
You might not automatically warm to Andre de Vanny as Hamlet. He’s a bit tall on self-dramatising torment, a bit short on self-deprecating charm, and could benefit from that portion of his character’s advice to the players which advises restraint: “In … the whirlwind of passion,” Hamlet tells his actors, “you must acquire and beget a temperance that may give it smoothness.”