Hamnet, RSC, 2023
Photo: Manuel Harlan
  • Theatre, Drama


This timid RSC adaptation of Maggie O’Farrell’s Shakespearean tearjerker fails to capture the book’s magic


Time Out says

A stage version of Maggie O’Farrell’s 1.5m-selling 2020 novel ‘Hamnet’ feels like it should be an effortless home run for the RSC, being a sort of origin story for William Shakespeare that smartly puts the focus on his wife Agnes (better known to us as Anne) and the tragic early death of their eponymous son. But this adaptation is a palpable miss. 

I’m sure there are extremely pragmatic reasons for playwright Lolita Chakrabarti’s abandonment of the book’s non-linear structure and more experimental flourishes. But in doing so ‘Hamnet’ loses pathos and intrigue, turning it into an episodic, linear account of shamanic Stratford-upon-Avon lass Agnes (Madeleine Mantock), her romance with and marriage to overeducated local boy William (Tom Varey), and their subsequent parenthood and loss.

The book has Hamnet as a character from the beginning; in Erica Whyman’s inexcusably pedestrian period production he doesn’t even turn up until the second half. It’s consequently much less sad when he dies, more of a plot point than a tearjerker. And where on the page Shakespeare is a distant figure seen only through Agnes’s eyes, that sense is never achieved here. Again, I fully appreciate why it’s difficult to replicate in a play, but the character feels overexposed here, which really drains the book’s brilliant final scene of power.

The cast is solid, and Oguz Kaplangi’s electronic score is both powerfully atmospheric and a much-needed note of modernity. But considering how expansive and ambitious some RSC adaptations are, ‘Hamnet’ is disappointingly meek. This surely could and should have been much braver theatre.


£25-£115. Runs 2hr 30min
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