Tramway, Glasgow

Mary Brennan

five stars

Somewhere, in a limbo that arcs from 1596 to the present day, an eleven year old boy is trying to make sense of a world he is no longer a part of - that boy is Hamnet, He’s the only son of William Shakespeare, though he scarcely knew his father: Shakespeare abandoned his family to pursue a career in the theatre and failed to get home again before Hamnet died. Four years later, in 1599, Shakespeare wrote Hamlet... This brilliant, metaphysical maze of a monologue - conjured up in 2017 by Dead Centre and all-too-briefly part of the Take Me Somewhere programme - finds Hamnet scratching away at the why’s and wherefores of the one letter, that ‘l’ instead of ‘n’ , that separates his name from the abiding greatness bestowed on a fictional character. But that’s only the springboard into an increasingly poignant exploration of loss, where directors/devisers Bush Moukarzel and Ben Kidd come at the dynamics of presence and absence from several, cogent directions that ultimately nag us with more questions than answers.

On-stage, Hamnet is played with an unnerving naturalness by eleven year old Ollie West. Wearing casual modern dress, calling up Google on his smart-phone, producing costume changes and an electronic keyboard from his massive back-pack, West’s Hamnet could have strolled in off the street. When the sly, superbly engineered ‘trickery’ of José Miguel Jiménez’s video creates a parallel universe on-screen - with us, as audience, also mirrored there - the sheer wrenching misery of Hamnet’s infinite isolation really harrows as West is suddenly confronted (on-screen) by a man he calls ‘father’. Who is really being haunted here? Is it the lonely son who never got to engage with a famous father? Or the father who, too late, remembered his responsibilities to Hamnet. Layer upon magnificent layer, it’s a play that catches the conscience - death makes losers of us all.