Hamnet: Novel by Maggie O’Farrell, adapted by Lolita Chakrabarti, RSC at The Swan, Stratford Upon Avon, Review: Rod Dungate & David Gray 29 04 23, Audio Described Performance 5*****

Chakrabarti’s skilled adaptation creates, from Magie O’Farrell’s dense and detailed novel, something more akin to a lovely, simple love story.  however, all the complexity and interweaving threads of the novel support this staged Hamnet.  The result is both engrossing and moving.

O’Farrell’s starting point is her perception that academic critical examinations of Shakespeare’s Hamlet tend to ignore the effect of Shakespeare’s son’s early death (this was Hamnet.)  But her novel, and Chakrabarti’s adaptation magnifies this, is also brimming with intriguing human beings; all tied together with family and working relationships.

Tom Varney and Faye Campbell create a perfectly matched pair of characters in William Shakespeare and his wife Agnes.  Varey gives us a most unassuming Shakespeare, he is like a receptacle into which all the love, cruelty, violence around him are poured with, all importantly the magic and mystery of his wife.  Campbell’s Agnes never signals the mystery nor natural magic to us, but we totally believe it is there.  Her long passionate grieving over Hamnet’s death is stunning.  This pair are beautiful to watch, generous and committed performances.  Now, we think, we know where Shakespeare got all that imagination from.……

But this is a company big on team-work; together, team members weave their tapestry with perfect flow.

Erica Whyman directs.  We must have faith and give ourselves up to the first moments of this story (as we do in the book) for there are many pathways to start.  But the faith is repaid by Whyman’s deft handling of the performance, leading us gently yet firmly to the surprise conclusion.  Tom Piper’s set is terrific, using the openness of the Swan Theater’s acting space and creating a whole series of different spaces.

This was an audio described performance.  There is significant action without dialogue and the audio description handles this brilliantly, catching the shifting nuances of the performance.

So good to see the Swan in action again; one could not want for a better start.  Marvellous.


Joan – Sarah Belcher * Agnes – Faye Campbell * Susanna – Harmony Rose-Bremmer * Burbage – Will Brown * Eliza – Frankie Hasting * Jude – Hannah McPake * Bartholomew – Obioma Ugoala * Ned – Karl Haynes * Mary – Elizabeth Rider * William – Tom Varney * Hamnet – Ajani Cabey * Judith – Alex Jarrett * Tilly – Rose Riley * John – Peter Wright


Director – Erica Whyman * Designer – Tom Piper * Lighting – Prema Mehta * Music – Oguz Kaplangi * Music Director – Alice Brown

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