Shakespeare, his clairvoyant wife and the tragedy of their lost son: GEORGINA BROWN reviews Hamnet
Hamnet (Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon)
Verdict: The healing power of theatre
Another week in the theatre, another adaptation of a novel. But Lolita Chakrabarti’s deft distillation of Maggie O’Farrell’s award-winning Hamnet — an imagined exploration of Shakespeare’s family over 18 years — becomes something new and fresh.
Condensed down to just over two hours, it gives a voice to the unheard and unknown women closest to Shakespeare, but also suggests how the playwright’s personal life seeped into his plays.
In particular, how his savage grief over the death of his son, Hamnet — buried a stone’s throw away from the recently refurbished Swan Theatre — inspired his greatest tragedy, Hamlet.
Deft and compelling: Madeleine Mantock as Agnes and Tom Varey as Will in Hamnet
Another week in the theatre, another adaptation of a novel. But Lolita Chakrabarti’s deft distillation of Maggie O’Farrell’s award-winning Hamnet — an imagined exploration of Shakespeare’s family over 18 years — becomes something new and fresh, writes GEORGINA BROWN
That comes in the play’s more theatrically adventurous second half. For it begins dutifully, though beautifully, sticking faithfully to the novel, albeit imposing a straightforward chronology, starting in 1582.
In the Warwickshire countryside, Will (Tom Varey), a 17-year-old stripling teaching Latin to the sons of a local farmer, falls under the spell of their half-sister Agnes, pronounced Ann-yez.
This is Anne Hathaway, traditionally known as an illiterate woman who forced her toy-boy Shakespeare up the aisle when she became pregnant, and then was left behind with the children in Stratford when he set off to make his name in London.
O’Farrell — and now Chakrabarti — tells a different story. For Agnes and Will, it’s an instant attraction of two sharply contrasting creative spirits.
Agnes tells us that she reads with her hands, while Will has a way with words. The relationship is joyously consummated in the apple store.
BEST SEAT IN THE HOUSE
If you missed David Tennant in the West End production of C.P. Taylor’s morality tale, set in Germany on the eve of WWII, now’s your chance.
Tennant plays Professor John Halder — a ‘good man’…or is he?
Sharon Small and Elliot Levey also star in the play, directed by Dominic Cooke.
In cinemas from Thursday (April 20). Visit ntlive.com for details.
This Agnes is a remarkable creation, made more so in Madeleine Mantock’s compelling performance. She exudes an earthy radiance. At one with nature, she can make healing tinctures from herbs.
More unusual, she has premonitions, senses the unseen and, as an evocative soundscape reveals, she hears the presence of her dead mother in cries above the wind.
Their Midlands accents (a touch of The Archers, which is set nearby) make London seem remote.
And it’s there Will goes, desperate to escape his bullying, drunk (somewhat one-dimensional) father and to expand the family glove business. Which takes him to the playhouses, because actors need gloves.
In Erica Whyman’s atmospheric production, the various women deal with things indoors with brisk efficiency: childbirth, cooking, tending to the ill and then, in an almost unbearably moving scene, winding the body of 11-year-old Hamnet in preparation for his burial.
With his father’s sense of the dramatic, Hamnet (excellent Ajani Cabey) decides to ‘hoodwink’ Death and change places with his dying twin sister Judith (a transfixing Alex Jarrett).
Shakespeare the playwright only finally emerges when Chakrabarti moves away from the novel — and from the rustic beams in Stratford — to Shakespeare’s wooden O: the Globe Theatre on Bankside.
In snatches from his plays in which twins are mistaken, in the imagery of hands and gloves, in snippets from actors retained and rephrased, and in the first production of Hamlet, when he brings his dead son to life, we glimpse the mind of a magpie . . . and the alchemy of a magician.
Source: Read Full Article