The Royal Shakespeare Company is bringing a major new adaptation of Maggie O’Farrell’s award-winning novel Hamnet to the stage.
Adapted by Olivier Award winning Lolita Chakrabarti (Life of Pi), the world premiere will re-open the RSC’s newly refurbished Swan Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon on 1 April 2023, running for an 11 week season to 17 June 2023.
The play is a co-production between the RSC and Sam Mendes’ Neal Street Productions, in association with Hera Pictures.
Hamnet reveals the imagined life of William Shakespeare and the woman and family who influenced his work. Set in Warwickshire in 1582, the play sees Agnes Hathaway, a natural healer, meet the Latin tutor, William Shakespeare. Drawn together by powerful but hidden impulses, they create a life together and make a family. As William moves to London to discover his place in the world of theatre, Agnes stays at home to raise their three children, but she is the constant presence and purpose of his life. When the plague steals 11-year-old Hamnet from his loving parents, they must each confront their loss alone. And yet, out of the greatest suffering, something of extraordinary wonder is born.
The opening of Hamnet will mark the official re-opening of the Swan Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon following a major refurbishment which began in January 2022 which includes new lighting, sound and video, better seating and access.
Hamnet will be directed by Erica Whyman, Acting Artistic Director of the Royal Shakespeare Company. Erica steps down at the RSC in June 2023 when Daniel Evans and Tamara Harvey take up their posts as the RSC’s new co-artistic directors.
Hamnet will feature Design by Tom Piper, Lighting by Prema Mehta and Music byOğuz Kaplangi. The Casting Director is Amy Ball CDG with further creative team to be confirmed.
The production is adapted for the stage by award-winning playwright Lolita Chakrabarti, whose writing credits include Red Velvet, Invisible Cities, Hymn, The Goddess and the award-winning stage adaptation of Yann Martel’s Booker Prize winning novel Life of Pi, which won five Olivier Awards including Best New Play, 2022. Life of Pi transfers to Broadway’s Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre from the American Repertory Theatre in Boston in March 2023. She was also dramaturg on Message in a Bottle, curated The Greatest Wealth, for which she wrote a monologue and is dramaturg on the forthcoming Sylvia at The Old Vic.
The original novel of Hamnet has sold over 1.5 million copies worldwide and was Waterstones’ Book of the Year and winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award in 2020. Maggie O’Farrell also won the 2020 Women’s Prize for Fiction for the novel.
Erica Whyman, Acting Artistic Director of the Royal Shakespeare Company, and director of Hamnet, said in a press statement: “I could not be more thrilled to be directing this adaptation of ‘Hamnet’. Maggie’s beautiful novel moved and inspired me in the darkest days of lockdown as it did for so many. It is high time we heard the compelling story of Agnes Hathaway and her children, voices that have been somewhat neglected, and who offer a wholly new perspective on ‘her Poet’. It has been a privilege to collaborate with Lolita and her adaptation is also a celebration of the power of theatre. It is especially fitting that this production will reopen the unique Swan Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon, evoking as it does a different time in the town, one that not only gave birth to our house playwright but one which knew what it was to live through waves of pandemic, of grief and recovery. I am delighted to be collaborating once more with Tom Piper, Prema Mehta and Oğuz Kaplangi, all of whom relish the theatrical possibilities of the Swan and the emotional power of this story.
“The Swan will have been closed for three years, and we have missed it very much. I am enormously proud of our recent history of premiering bold and ambitious new work in that space, from ‘Oppenheimer’ to ‘Hecuba’ to ‘Seven Acts of Mercy’ to ‘Miss Littlewood’. When we closed in 2020 we were midway through a season which included ‘A Museum in Baghdad’ and ‘The Whip’ and the latter has recently been included in the GCSE syllabus. It remains an essential part of the RSC’s programme to commission and produce vivid new plays with an epic imagination and Hamnet marks the beginning of a wonderful year back on that intimate stage.”
Adaptor of Hamnet for the stage, Lolita Chakrabarti, said: “I am so thrilled to have been given the opportunity to adapt Maggie O’Farrell’s much-loved novel for the stage. It has been a gift to absorb this story and to imagine Anne Hathaway (Agnes in the book) and her husband William Shakespeare. It has been a fascinating task to look at our greatest writer in the English language as a man, not a genius, and to discover the family behind him and the influences on his work. As part of my research, I have greatly enjoyed experiencing Stratford and visited many of the buildings and streets Shakespeare and Agnes would have inhabited. While the facts about the Shakespeare family are limited, this is a universal story about a family’s dynamics, the devastating effects of a child’s death, the necessary reinvention after loss and how new writing is formed. It has been a privilege to recreate and imagine the life of an often forgotten but important figure, Mrs Shakespeare. And to be re-opening the Swan Theatre with this play is very exciting indeed, bringing back a much loved and beautiful performance space here in the heart of Stratford-upon-Avon where Agnes and William can live again.”
Author of Hamnet, Maggie O’Farrell, said: “I couldn’t be happier that the RSC will be premiering their stage adaption of Hamnet at the Swan Theatre. The motivation, for me, in writing the novel was to give a voice and a presence to the only son of William Shakespeare, who died when he was eleven and has ever since been relegated to a literary footnote in his father’s biography. I wanted to write a book that put this forgotten child centre-stage, to say to the world that he was important, he was grieved, his life was significant, and that without his early death, we wouldn’t have Hamlet and we wouldn’t have Twelfth Night. It has been a joy from start to finish to work with the RSC, Erica Whyman and Lolita Chakrabarti on bringing this adaptation into being. That Hamnet the boy will now be appearing in a play with his name, in the very town where he lived and died, is an incredibly moving thought. I’m so grateful to everyone involved in this exciting venture.”