William Shakespeare had one son. He named him Hamnet. Shakespeare then left home to pursue his career in the theatre, effectively abandoning his family. In 1596, he was told that the boy – who was then eleven years old – was seriously ill. By the time Shakespeare returned home, Hamnet had died. In 1599, Shakespeare wrote a play called Hamlet.
Hamnet is too young to understand Shakespeare. And he is one letter away from being a great man. We are too old to understand Hamnet. We meet in the middle, in a theatre.
From the makers of the multi award-winning productions LIPPY and Chekhov’s First Play (both seen at Brisbane Festival in 2016), Hamnet is a solo work for an 11-year-old boy. Using live video and dead video, Dead Centre attempts to bridge the gap between two generations.
SEE MORE. HEAR MORE. SPEAK MORE.
Brought to you by Brisbane Times
From David Berthold, Brisbane Festival Artistic Director
Illustration: Shakespeare with family, Hamnet is behind him on the left; his two daughters Susanna and Judith are on the right and left of him; His wife, Anne Hathaway, is sitting in the chair on the right.
Dead Centre is one of the most alive and alert theatre companies in the world right now. I was so taken with them a couple of years ago that we welcomed them with three productions in 2016 – Chekhov’s First Play, LIPPY and Souvenir. We had to have them back. And Hamnet is a stunner.
This Irish company approaches so-called ‘great’ works from the live edges, not the dead centre. So they make the familiar fresh, but in a way (and I think this is one of their triumphs) that is utterly in the spirit of the canonical author. Hamnet, about Shakespeare’s son who died at 11, shares all the themes and concerns of Hamlet, but in a startling way. Hamnet carries with him all of Hamlet’s insecurities, but in a way that marks him as the most familiar of boys. After all, only one letter separates the famous from the forgotten.
In Hamnet, a boy of 11 stands on a stage in front of a large screen. He’s alone. He has lost his father and is in limbo. He can’t grow any older. “I’m not supposed to talk to strangers,” he says to us, “but how else am I going to find my Dad”? He drops his backpack and begins his story as the estranged son of a famous playwright. He wrestles with a great man he barely knew and a father he needs to know. A son who also needs his father to know him.
I’ve seen few shows that use technology as seamlessly, and as movingly, as Hamnet. The use of live and ‘dead‘ video is magical. It is a player in what is otherwise a solo work for an 11-year-old actor – the superb Aran Murphy – and one that I know will touch anyone who has dealt with fathers, sons and that pull to make a mark in the world.
ARUGA CITIZEN REVIEWERS
This was a deeply moving play about fathers and sons and grief and need. Shakespeare had a son. His name was Hamnet. He died when he was eleven. Three years later, Shakespeare wrote the seminal play, Hamlet. In this performance, the lost son is brought to life, come to ask his father some personal truths, come to lay the ghost of the absent parent to rest, once and for all. Read More
By Celine Chong
The stage was set. One great playwright. One boy. One extraordinary work of modern theatre.
Hamnet is the story of Shakespeare’s only son, Hamnet (not to be confused with Hamlet!), who died aged just eleven. Produced by Dead Centre, creators Bush Moukarzel and Ben Kidd have cleverly brought the young boy to life in an unexpected and powerful way, and meeting him was nothing short of a delight.
Though we all know and love Shakespeare, Hamnet never knew his own father well, and Moukarzel and Kidd have done a fantastic job in bringing the boy to life on the stage. Hamnet is a brilliantly written work, with dialogue that is both poignant and witty, truly tugging at the heartstrings. Shakespeare fans will appreciate the subtle nods that are weaved in amongst the new text. The occasional “to be or not to be” never felt out of place, each instance coming together seamlessly to bring Shakespeare’s forgotten son to life.
The play’s set design and staging were also a highlight, possibly the most unique and intriguing of any I’ve ever experienced. A video camera acted as a mirror on the back of the stage, and let’s just say that Shakespeare’s not the only one who writes ghosts into his plays! The technological tricks add a whole new thought-provoking layer to the piece. No spoilers, so you’ll have to see for yourself!
There was something definitively enthralling about watching childhood innocence on the modern stage, and Hamnet’s raw honesty is laid bare as he stands alone on the solitary stage. Through eleven-year-old Aran Murphy’s stellar performance, we see Hamnet’s hopes and dreams, his yearnings, curiosities, and fears of never measuring up to the famous HamLET’s greatness. As his first ever play, Aran’s performance was as touching as it was bold, and as funny as it was heartbreaking. He captured the subtleties and depth of Hamnet’s character, coaxing us into his broken world.
And as he reflects on the meaning of his eleven short years, he poses those questions to us too. As with all great plays, therein lies Hamnet’s greatness. All in all, simply captivating theatre.
Cast & creatives
Performed by Aran Murphy
Set Design Andrew Clancy
Costumes and Effects Grace O'Hara
Light Stephen Dodd
Sound Design Kevin Gleeson
Video Design Jose Miguel Jimenez
Choreography Liv O'Donoghue
Stage Manager Barbara Hughes
Production Manager Nicholas Ree
Dramaturg Michael West
Producer Aisling Ormonde
Direction Bush Moukarzel and Ben Kidd
Assistant Director Nora Kelly Leister
Text by William Shakespeare, Bush Moukarzel and Ben Kidd
Brisbane Times Festival Conversations after performance - Tue 11 Sept
AUSLAN interpreted performance - Tue 11 Sept
Corner Grey and Melbourne Streets
Queensland Performing Arts Centre
Catch an Uber to your event! First-time riders can use code BRISFEST18 for up to $20 off their trip.
Parking: Paid car parks at QPAC and South Bank Parklands
Bus: Cultural Centre busway station
Train: South Brisbane train station
Ferry: South Bank ferry terminal
Visit TransLink for public transport options