Review: Hamnet


by Mike Matthaiakis

Lolita Chakrabarti’s adaptation of Maggie O’Farrell’s novel “Hamnet” for the RSC proves to be a tricky yet impressive feat. While the source material leaps between time periods with an intimate interiority, Chakrabarti skillfully finds a new chronological framing for the tale, emphasizing Agnes, Shakespeare’s wife, and their children. The play becomes a fascinating origin story for the Bard, but equally, if not more so, Agnes’s story takes center stage.

The chronological structure begins with the meeting of the future spouses, set against Agnes’s unhappy home. The action is haunted by later events, creating an emotionally grounded narrative. Chakrabarti weaves Shakespearean tropes throughout the play, with a particular focus on the twins, offering loose yet emotionally resonant parallels with the Bard’s work.

Madeleine Mantock’s portrayal of Agnes is sensational, delivering a riveting performance that captures her otherworldly essence and deep connection with nature. Erica Whyman’s production, supported by Ayse Tashkiran’s fluid movement direction, features seamless transitions and powerful moments, such as the binding of hands during the wedding, the representation of children as babies, and the use of cloth as a powerful symbol throughout.

The play benefits from strong performances across the cast, including Tom Varey as Will, Alex Jarrett and Ajani Cabey as lovable twins, and Phoebe Campbell as their stroppy teenage sister. The set design by Tom Piper, transitioning from homestead to playhouse, captures the essence of Stratford, and Prema Mehta’s lighting adds a gorgeously atmospheric touch.

The production’s climax allows the audience to hear a speech from Hamlet, offering a poignant connection between personal grief and Shakespeare’s great work. Despite an overly intrusive score, “Hamnet” becomes a poignant exploration of humanity’s resilience, providing solace and escape in the face of bewildering deaths and the ongoing pandemic.

Hamnet is at the Garrick Theatre through 17 February.