Hamnet by The RSC Theatre Review

Hamnet by The RSC Theatre Review

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Posted 2023-04-14 by Alison in Birmingham follow

Wed 12 Apr 2023 - Sat 06 Jan 2024



It seems apt that the theatre company dedicated to William Shakespeare's work would be the one to take on the stage adaptation of Maggie O'Farrell's award-winning novel Hamnet. Sympathetically charting the playwright's early life with his wife and linking personal family tragedy to his plots is an origins tale like no other.

Amid the intimate Stratford-upon-Avon surroundings of newly-reopened The Swan Theatre, the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) unveiled this highly-anticipated stage version. It stays here until June 17 before moving on to London's Garrick Theatre from September 30 until January 6, 2024.

Firmly focusing on Shakespeare's perceptive wife, Agnes Hathaway, even the home they live in of ladders and a loft is shaped like an A for her name. Hamnet is a highly sensual production from the start with the smell of smoking lavender lingering in the air, Agnes licking her fingers from dripping nectar from a honeycomb and eerie whispers giving an insight into her mind.

'Will' is a cheeky jack the lad bohemian with an earring and excitable ambition in sharp comparison to her homely, herbalist, child of nature demeanour. Rising star Madeleine Mantock, who plays Macy Vaughn in TV series Charmed, is a wonderfully sensitive and proud Agnes opposite Tom Varey as her husband.



Their romance is cut back to mainly a brief, raunchy entanglement on the all-important family table before a pregnancy leads to marriage and more children - twins Hamnet and Judith - to which so much of this story pins.

Varey is good but Mantock is excellent. Following on from playing Elvira in Richard Eyre’s production of Blithe Spirit in the West End, she steals the limelight at every turn. Although, I think this female centric script and production was put together in her favour.

That's because there's a strong female creative team behind the play that emphasises the maternal emotions of Agnes' life bringing up three children largely without Will as he makes his name in London. The heart-wrenching scene of a mother's loss is deeply emotional and unforgettable as Agnes hollers with grief.

Lolita Chakrabarti has adapted Maggie O'Farrell's novel well for theatre, changing the structure to follow a chronological order rather than jumping around in time. While RSC director Erica Whyman is at her best, keeping the momentum flowing on a basic, earthy stage based around the family table where the relationships fill the stage.



Early on, it's said that a family which eats and sleeps together stays together and you feel Will's disconnect as the time he spends away in London lengthens.

It's no picnic for Agnes - known to the world more commonly as Anne. The sharpness of snide remakes by Agnes' stepmother Joan and mum-in-law Mary(astute Sarah Belcher and Elizabeth Rider respectively) are as forceful as punches in Hamnet's stomach by Will's father John.

Peter Wright is particularly impressive as he provides a menacing stage presence as John before transforming later into comical actor Will Kempe in London.

Scenes of Will in the capital add welcome light-hearted relief to the gloomy story with plenty of in-jokes about actors and The Globe that Shakespeare fans will adore. Watch out for delightful Will Brown, who despite only having brief scenes as actor Burbage, brings most of the comedy.

While it is a slow burning production, especially at the start, it is tender and heartfelt particularly involving the children. They come into their own after the interval when the play really gains momentum.



Striking Ajani Cabey is a bright, energetic Hamnet, which makes the tragedy all the more bitter. He's protective over his delicate twin Judith - a well cast Alex Jarrett. While Harmony Rose-Bremner gives older sister Susanna realistic sulkiness that comes with siblings like together.

It all moves towards a carefully considered finale in the apt setting of The Globe. Agnes' realisation of how Will has also been susceptible to grief and how it has manifested itself in his new play Hamlet brings a lump to the throat before a striking, sentimental close to the show.

O'Farrell helped to put Shakespeare's wife in the limelight and consider how without Hamnet there may never have been Hamlet. Hamnet on stage is different to the book in many ways - as it should be - but it still beautifully brings Agnes Hathaway out of the shadow.

Hamnet is a sensual, well-crafted piece of absorbing theatre that packs an emotional punch.

4 /5 stars

Running time: 2 hrs 30 mins (including a 20 mins interval)

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77221 - 2023-04-13 21:10:09

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