Christopher Walker reviews Hamnet

Whenever another salacious biography appears of some great artist dwelling on their personal life, I always take heart that we know so very little about William Shakespeare’s.

Maggie O’Farrell’s best-selling book Hamnet sought to ‘correct’ this shortfall, and to explore the way his great play Hamlet was a sorrowful hymn to his recently lost child, Hamnet.

It has now been adapted by Lolita Chakrabarti in an RSC production at the Garrick Theatre, following a sell-out run in Stratford-upon-Avon.

Mhairi Gayer (Tilly), Madeleine Mantock (Agnes) Frankie Hastings (Eliza). Photo by Manuel Harlan RSC

William himself (the excellent Tom Varey) is somewhat relegated to second billing in this version. Anne Hathaway, is very much the central character.

Here Anne is called Agnes (she was called that only once in her father’s will – the clerk probably misheard). And following in the footsteps of Germaine Greer’s Shakespeare’s Wife, she is an early feminist icon.

Thanks to Lolita and Director Erica Whyman the focus is very much on the women here.

Madeline Mantock, as Agnes, and the super Liza Sudovy and Sarah Belcher as Shakespeare’s overbearing mother and mother-in-law respectively.

Tom Varey (William). Photo by Manuel Harlan RSC

The feminist lens also means Agnes’s birth pangs are shown in exhaustive detail.

This Anne Hathaway is a loud mouthed rebellious type, and a natural healer or witch.

For which there is no evidence whatsoever.

She may have liked quietly knitting or pole dancing for all we know. But I guess neither of those profiles fitted this narrative.

Otherwise, the plot builds on the very few facts we do know about her.

The couple met in 1582 when Anne was much older than Shakespeare, 26 to his 18.

Frankie Hastings (Eliza) and Liza Sadovy (Mary). Photo by Manuel Harlan RSC

They had three children including poor Hamnet (here the talented Ajani Cabey) who died of the plague at only eleven.

William left Anne and Warwickshire to spend most of his time in London creating his extraordinary cannon of work.

Most of us think “Thank God,” but that is definitely NOT what we’re meant to think in this production.

The London scenes are brief (if well done thanks to an underused Peter Wight and Will Brown).

Before we are rushed back to the women and their domestic lives.

Make believe drama –


Pictures: Madeleine Mantock (Agnes), Hannah McPake (Jude) and Mhairi Gayer (Tilly). Photo by Manuel Harlan RSC

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