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BrumHour saw Hamnet at the invite of The RSC.
By David Fox twitter.com/DavidFoxTheatre
Review: Hamnet at The RSC
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐An emotional, powerful, and beautiful production.
Directed by Erica Whyman, adapted by Lolita Chakrabarti
Hamnet is a story inspired by the son of a famous playwright. It is a story of the bond between twins, and of a marriage pushed to the brink by grief. Above all, it is an emotional and unforgettable reimagining of a boy whose life has been all but forgotten, but whose name was given to one of the most celebrated plays ever written.
The Royal Shakespeare Company present a fantastic new play based on Maggie O’Farrell’s award-winning novel (Winner of the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2020).
The plays of William Shakespeare were incredibly popular during his lifetime and have remained so for over 400 years after his death. While we are familiar with his works such as Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, and of course Hamlet (to name but a few) we are less familiar with some of the details of his life. Born in Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire (you can still visit the house), son of a glovemaker, moved to London to be a playwright, and retired to Stratford. However, there are areas of his personal life we know nothing about save a few details.
In her best-selling novel, Maggie O’Farrell turned the spotlight on to Shakespeare’s wife, Anne (Agnes in the play)– how much do we know about her aside from her being bequeathed the ‘second-best bed’ in Shakespeare’s will? Here O’Farrell breathes life into their world and relationships and those of their children: Susannah, and the twins Judith and the eponymous Hamnet. How did Anne manage alone in Stratford while Will was in London? How did she cope with the loss of Hamnet, aged 11, to plague?
The cast of Hamnet was sensational! Madeleine Mantock gave a truly powerful and emotional performance as Agnes – her reaction to Hamnet’s death was utterly devastating.
Tom Varey as William showed a true journey of the character from mischievous and feckless Latin tutor, to confident and grief-stricken playwright. The rest of the ensemble cast were excellent with particular note to Peter Wight’s powerful performance as John, Shakespeare’s father, conveying a fractious, dysfunctional, and sometimes violent relationship. Well-deserved standing ovations all round!
Hamnet was a truly immersive experience – the thrust stage allowing a closeness, experiencing the emotion, sounds, and smells of the show first-hand, and making the audience feeling part of the production. Sound design was used to great effect with the sounds of nature, kestrels, bees, and babies crying surrounding the audience, and a beautiful violin and lute score accentuating the performances.
The ending of the play was powerful – with both parents expressing their grief in different ways. Agnes full of raw emotion, and Will unable to express himself before ultimately doing what he does best – putting it down in words. Their grief interspersed with some of the most introspective lines from Hamlet was very cleverly done.
Hamnet is a story about life, love, and loss, and it has to be said that there is something very special about watching this production in Stratford-upon-Avon, where you can walk the streets Anne and Will walked, and even visit their houses, and graves!
It should be noted that this performance of Hamnet is the first to be performed in the newly refurbished Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon. The design of the theatre – wooden beams and bare walls, really adds to the atmosphere of the play, perfectly evoking the farms and houses of rural Tudor Stratford. I can’t wait to watch more productions at this unique, and intimate venue!
It is fair to say that Hamnet is the hottest ticket in town at the moment and could easily qualify for the theatrical event of the year!
An emotional, powerful, and beautiful production, Hamnet is now playing at the Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon until 17th June 2023. While the production is sold out, there may be return tickets available by contacting the box office. This production transfers to London later in the year for a limited time at the Garrick Theatre playing from 30th September 2023 to 6th January 2024. Find out more at: rsc.org.uk/hamnet/