Theatre Review - Hamnet

Tom Varey in Hamnet [Manuel Harlan]

SOMETHING gets lost in Lolita Chakrabarti’s adaptation of Maggie O’Farrell’s bestselling novel about Anne Hathaway and William Shakespeare’s marriage and the death of their son. Despite this, Hamnet arrives at the Garrick Theatre after a sellout run at the RSC’s Swan Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon.

The first half is largely taken up with  the courtship and marriage of Will (Tom Varey), a Latin tutor, and Agnes (the g is silent) Hathaway (Madeleine Mantock) a natural healer. Will’s father John (Peter Wight) tyrannises him and his domineering presence is the main reason he leaves Stratford to sell gloves in London.

This leaves little time for us to develop any sort of relationship with (or feeling for) Hamnet (Ajani Cabey) and his twin Judith (Alex Jarrett), who we meet in the second half. By the time they are 11, William is already spending much of his time in Southwark, writing and staging plays.

Agnes remains in Warwickshire where she raises their children. William is absent when Hamnet catches the bubonic plague from Judith. She recovers, Hamnet does not, and Agnes is forced to come to terms with her grief alone.

Now comfortably well off, William moves his family out of his father’s annexe into a larger house.

When Agnes decides to travel to London to confront her husband, she finds him rehearsing the tragedy of Hamlet.

Erica Whyman’s production looks good (aided by Tom Piper’s versatile set and costume design), her direction is polished and it’s competently acted but the play never really ignites.

The final reckoning between William and Agnes peters out. There’s no real tension or sense of jeopardy, even when the children fall ill. Full of old-world charm, it lacks bite.

Until February 17

Originally published by Westminster Extra