Hamnet première to reopen Stratford Swan

Published: 8 November 2022
Reporter: Steve Orme

“Compelling story of Agnes Hathaway and her children”: Hamnet
The Swan Theatre during redevelopment Credit: Sara Beaumont

The world première of Lolita Chakrabarti’s adaptation of Maggie O’Farrell’s novel Hamnet will reopen the Royal Shakespeare Company’s refurbished Swan Theatre, Stratford which has been closed for three years.

Erica Whyman, the RSC’s acting artistic director, said, “I couldn’t 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’s 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’s been a privilege to collaborate with Lolita and her adaptation is also a celebration of the power of theatre. It’s especially fitting that this production will reopen the unique Swan Theatre, 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.

“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.”

Lolita Chakrabarti commented, “it’s been a gift to absorb this story and to imagine Anne Hathaway (Agnes in the book) and her husband William Shakespeare. It’s 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.

“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’s been a privilege to recreate and imagine the life of an often forgotten but important figure, Mrs Shakespeare.”

Maggie O’Farrell said, “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 11 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.

“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.”

Hamnet will run for an 11-week season from Saturday 1 April until Friday 17 June 2023.

    Related listings

  • Hamnet - Maggie O'Farrell, adapted by Lolita Chakrabarti (Royal Shakespeare Company and Neal Street Productions, in association with Hera Pictures)