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Hamnet at the Garrick Theatre - A Review

A Shakespearean episode of Desperate Housewives






Having sold over 1.6 million copies, Maggie O'Farrell's novel, Hamnet, was surely going to be a crowd pleaser and great fodder for a play. It tells the story of a young William Shakespeare, his romance to a young Agnes (unfortunately pronounced An-yes) and their three young children, including his son Hamnet. While the book, I'm assured by my partner, is a complex story of weaving romance and tragedy around a haunting portrayal of a girl-cum-wife inexplicitly connected to the earth, her husband and her children; the Royal Shakespeare Company's version is an odd, soulless play which left me saying to myself "but nothing really happened".


Madeline Mantock leads the production with a distant yet ethereal Agnes who remains extremely likeable and tender despite being plagued with visions and hallucinations of her future children. Alongside her was most the heart-throbbing and gorgeous William Shakespeare, played by Tom Varey, since Joseph Fiennes in the 1998 movie Shakespeare in Love. The rest of the cast, including the Olivier Award Winning actor Lisa Sadovy, are eminently forgettable. Though this isn't a criticism of them, no performance was bad. It was purely down to a lamentably poor adaptation by Lolita Chakraborti, who notably lent her remarkable talents to the Olivier sweeping production of The Life of Pi. This production lost all the complexity of the book and placed everything in a boringly linear story which left me wondering what on earth the 1.6million people who own the book (including myself) were thinking.


The set was an attempt at miniaturising and transporting the seemingly inimitable Globe Theatre to the Garrick. Unfortunately, it did not have the charm of the great house and felt more like a poor homage to the Hamilton stage with an A-Frame set of ladders in the centre.



The oddest part of the whole production were the short bars of pre-recorded music between each scene, created by composer Oguz Kaplangi. Rather than giving the feel of traditional English music guiding us from scene to scene, it felt like we were in the middle of an episode of Desperate Housewives. Each time the future Hamnet (Ajani Cabey), his twin Judith (Alex Jarrett) and older sister Susanna (Phoebe Campbell) whispered as apparitions to Agnes, I was truly ready for Mary Alice to come out and drag me back to Wysteria Lane.


Overall, The Royal Shakespeare's production was a weakly written adaptation of a wonderfully nuanced novel, that albeit lead well by the two main actors, felt soulless and left me personally hugely underwhelmed. Though the production would have been better served at The Globe itself, or remained in the Swan in Stratford where it premiered, even that would not have saved it.


Tickets are available at https://ticketing.rsc.org.uk/tickets/series/gaham01m and is at the Garrick Theatre until February 17th 2024. Find the trailer is below (with very different reactions to the production than mine). Have you seen Hamnet? Comment your thoughts, I'd love to hear from you.



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