Visit Us
email us

Hamnet is a fascinating view of William Shakespeare’s early life in Stratford-On-Avon and London. The title refers to his son who was born in 1585 and died at age 11. The play tells the story of the wooing, impregnation and marriage of Anne Hathway by William Shakespeare, their subsequent life together including the birth of their first child Susanna, their twins Hamnet and Judith and the death of their son Hamnet. It also tells the story of Shakespeare’s budding writing career and the production of his early plays.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the play is that Anne or Agnes Hathaway and her children are all of mixed heritage. The play is based on the novel by Maggie O’Farrell as adopted for the stage by Lolita Chakrabarti.
The story of Shakespeare getting the older Anne pregnant and the marrying of her is familiar, but O’Farrell gives it a healthy if fictionalized version. The 17-year-old William is truly in love with her and she is a self-assured, and assertive woman who stands up for herself in no uncertain terms. The play gives us a mime of their coitus on a bench in an apple orchard and their nuptials with no suggestion that either of them is anything but a willing and happy participant.
William is a Latin tutor and Anne (Agnes in the play with a silent g) is a healer and she hears voices from her dead mother. I could not hear what her mother was saying and have no idea what I missed.
The most critical part of the play may be that Anne and therefore her children are of mixed racial background. The actors playing those roles are of mixed racial background as well. I assume this is an invention of O’Farrell and a fascinating take on Shakespeare’s famous family.
We “witness” the birth of their first child, Susanna, and their twins Judith and Hamnet. Subsequently there is a plague and Hamnet dies at age 11. It is a catastrophic event in the life of the parents and the upshot is that Shakespeare memorializes his son years later by writing Hamlet.
In the second half of the play, we meet some of the actors in his company, Will Kempe (Peter Wright), Richard Burbage (Will Brown) Henry Condell (Karl Haynes) and Thomas Day (Ajani Cabey). They recite some lines from Hamlet that appear to pay homage to Hamnet as expressed by Shakespeare.
Kudos to the outstanding cast expertly directed by Erica Whyman. Madeleine Mantock is a lively and marvelous Anne Hathaway. Tom Varey is an energetic and ambitious Wiliam Shakespeare who wants to write and own a big house in Stratford. Sarah Belcher is Anne’s obnoxious stepmother. Peter Wright plays John, Shakespeare’s unpleasant father, and doubles up as the actor Will Kempe. Phoebe Campbell and Ajani Cabey do superb work as the twins Judith and Hamnet.
The play has 19 characters and director Erica Whyman handles the numerous roles and scene changes with expertise.    
The play is done on a set by Tom Piper that consists of an upside V that rises to the top of the stage. In the playing area various pieces of furniture are pushed on and off the stage very quickly at times and it was not always possible to know where the characters were.
Most of the script is spoken in thick Warwickshire accents and good luck in following everything that is being said. It is not the fault of the actors or the director but the fault of the untrained Canadian listener. I have not read the novel and that did not help.
Nevertheless, I enjoyed the performance. Even a fictional depiction of Shakespeare can hold our interest and I followed the performance with a keen attention and enjoyment even when the Warwickshire accent had me baffled.
Hamnet by Lolita Chakrabarti adapted from the novel by Maggie O’Farrell in a production by the Royal Shakespeare Company and Neal Street Productions continues at the Garrick Theatre, 2 Charing Cross Road, London WC2.

January 25, 2024
Cultural - Κριτική Καλών Τεχνών

Join Our Newsletter and Get the Latest
Posts to Your Inbox

No spam ever. Read our Privacy Policy
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.