Neal Street News

Casting for the World Stage Premiere of Hamnet announced

Neal Street Productions and The Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC), in association with Hera Pictures, have today announced casting for the world-premiere of Maggie O’Farrell’s Hamnet adapted by Lolita Chakrabarti and directed by RSC Acting Artistic Director Erica Whyman. 

The hotly anticipated production will make its world premiere in the newly restored Swan theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon this April, after selling out its eleven-week run. This production marks the official re-opening of the Swan Theatre for the first time in over three years following the pandemic and a period of major refurbishment which began in January 2022.

Making her RSC debut in the role of Agnes Hathaway is Madeleine Mantock, with Tom Varey playing William Shakespeare, also making his RSC debut. Peter Wight returns to the RSC for the first time since 1997 to play John/Will Kempe.

The company also includes; Sarah Belcher (Joan), Will Brown (Burbage/Father John), Haydn Burke (Ensemble), Ajani Cabey (Hamnet/Thomas Day) Faye Campbell (Ensemble), Frankie Hastings (Eliza), Karl Haynes (Ned), Alex Jarrett (Judith), Hannah McPake (Jude), Rose Riley (Tilly/Caterina), Elizabeth Rider (Mary), Harmony Rose-Bremner (Susanna) and Obioma Ugoala (Bartholomew).

Lolita Chakrabarti said; “Writing this play was made even more challenging due to the huge impact Maggie O’Farrell’s novel has had. Every reader seems to have a very personal relationship to this story. Shakespeare is studied, examined and lauded across the world and at times, it has felt presumptuous of me to add my own flavour to this iconic man. When I began researching sixteenth century Stratford and London I was instantly drawn to the diversity in England at that time. It no longer surprises me that there were all kinds of people here. That is how the world works - immigration has always been a reality and as expected, many of those people integrated into British society. There are limited facts about Agnes/Anne Hathaway but I love playing with history and fiction and moulding them together so that one informs the other. It is a great privilege to look at the Shakespeares through my detailed research and personal lens. This woman behind the playwright is a fascinating character and after studying Maggie’s book, it is clear to me now that her son was the inspiration for one of our greatest pieces of English literature.”

Warwickshire, 1582. Agnes Hathaway, a natural healer, meets 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 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 (winner of five Olivier awards including Best New Play, 2022) which 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 at The Old Vic, for which she wrote a monologue and is dramaturg on new musical Sylvia at The Old Vic.

Hamnet is directed by Erica Whyman, who is Acting Artistic Director of the Royal Shakespeare Company. Hamnet marks Erica’s twelfth production for the Company, having first joined the RSC in January 2013 as Deputy Artistic Director. 

The production will feature Set and Costume Design by Tom Piper, Lighting by Prema Mehta, Sound by Xana, Music by Oguz Kaplangi, Casting by Amy Ball CDG, Movement by Ayse Tashkiran and Fights by Kate Waters.

Hamnet has sold over a 1.5 million copies worldwide and was named both Waterstones Book of the Year and winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award in 2020. The novel also saw Maggie O’Farrell named the winner of the 2020 Women’s Prize for Fiction; the UK's most prestigious annual book award celebrating and honouring fiction written by women. As the No. 1 Sunday Times Bestseller in 2021, Hamnet was shortlisted for the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction (2021) and British Book awards ‘Fiction Book of the Year’ (2021).

Making her RSC debut in the role of Agnes Hathaway is Madeleine Mantock. Madeleine made her West End stage debut in 2021 playing Elvira in Blithe Spirit at the Harold Pinter Theatre. For TV, Madeleine recently played Macy Vaughn in CBS studios series Charmed and Miss Clara in the BBC’s The Long Song. Other TV credits include The Tomorrow People (Warner Brothers), Age Before Beauty (BBC) and Into the Badlands (AMC). Madeleine’s film credits include Breaking Brooklyn (Montage Films), The Truth Commissioner (BBC Films) and Edge of Tomorrow (Warner Brothers).  

Joining Madeleine, and also making his debut with the RSC, is Tom Varey playing William Shakespeare. Tom’s previous theatre credits include Death Watch (The Print Room), One Arm (Southwark Playhouse), A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Liverpool Everyman) and A Taste of Honey (Trafalgar Studios). For TV, Tom played Bert Middleton in the ITV drama serial The Village and Will Simpson in the long-running soap Ackley Bridge. He went on to play Cley Cerwyn in the HBO drama Game of Thrones. More recently, Tom played Jack Morris in the four-part BBC One drama Ridley Road. Other TV and film credits include Fifteen Love, Death in Paradise, No Offence and Dark Angel. 

Returning to the RSC for the first time since 1997, Peter Wight will play John/Will Kempe. His previous roles for the RSC include The Spanish Tragedy, Much Ado About Nothing, Barbarians, A Clockwork Orange and Hamlet. Throughout his prolific stage career, Peter has enjoyed residencies at theatres including the National Theatre, Harold Pinter Theatre, Royal Court, Duke of York’s Theatre, the Lyric Hammersmith, Sheffield Crucible and the New York Armory. Recent stage credits include Hamlet, Oresteia (Park Avenue Armory Theatre), Uncle Vanya and The Birthday Party (Harold Pinter Theatre), Rosmersholm (Duke of York’s). As a screen actor, Peter is perhaps best known for his collaboration with Mike Leigh on Meantime, Naked, Vera Drake, Another Year and Mr Turner. 
For TV, Peter enjoyed long-running roles in the BBC sitcom Early Doors and police drama Out of the Blue. More recently, Peter has appeared in A Confession (ITV), This Time with Alan Partridge (BBC1), Vanity Fair (ITV/Amazon), The Crown (Netflix), Brief Encounters, I Want My Wife Back and Our Zoo.

Elizabeth Rider will play the role of Mary following past performances at the RSC in All’s Well That Ends Well, A Doll’s House, The Twin Rivals, Henry IV - Part I and The Witch of Edmonton. Other theatre credits include Touched (Nottingham Playhouse), Augustus Carp, Just Between Ourselves, My Very Own Story, Rutherford and Son, Village Fete, Wildest Dreams (Alan Ayckbourn at Stephen Joseph Theatre) and Space (Soho Theatre).  As a TV actor, Elizabeth played Lynette Driver in the BBC soap opera Doctors. Additional TV credits include Sister Boniface Mysteries, Before We Die, Grace, Showtrial, True Things About Me, Line of Duty V & VI, Shadow & Bone, The Cure, Doc Martin, Care, Mrs Wilson, Informer, Vera, Doctor Foster, Midsomer Murders, Letters from Baghdad, Holby City, The Scandalous Lady W, Lady Chatterley’s Lover, The Casual Vacancy, Lewis, The Tunnel, Call The Midwife, Marchlands, The Accused, Waking The Dead and Law & Order. 

Sarah Belcher plays Agnes’ stepmother Joan. Sarah last visited the RSC in 2012 performing in David Farr’s What Country Friends is This; a season of three plays performed by a single company of actors, which included Twelfth Night, The Tempest and The Comedy of Errors. Her extensive stage credits include The March on Russia (Orange Tree), Medea (Almeida), The Accrington Pals (Royal Exchange), Six Characters in Search Of An Author (Headlong), Beachy Head (Analogue), Roam (National Theatre of Scotland/Grid Iron), The Devil’s Larder (Grid Iron), The Elephant Man (Sheffield Lyceum) and The Magic Carpet (Lyric Hammersmith). TV credits include Holby City, Kiss of Death, EastEnders, Obsession, The Musketeers, Doctors, Tales from the Old Bailey, Lead Balloon, Twelve Dancing Princesses and Talk to Me.

They will be joined by Ajani Cabey and Alex Jarrett, who also make their debut with the company playing the respective roles of Hamnet and Judith, Agnes and William’s twin children. Ajani Cabey trained at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre school, having graduated in 2019. Whilst training, Ajani’s theatre credits include Absolute Scenes, The Last Days of Judas Iscariot, Romeo and Juliet, Loam and Jumpers for Goalposts. Since then, Ajani has enjoyed roles in William Stone’s comedy-drama The Fence set in 1980s Bristol and the BFI-supported short film Pickney by Michael Jenkins. This production will mark Ajani’s professional stage debut and his debut season with the RSC. Alex Jarrett’s previous theatre credits include Our Generation (National Theatre), Maryland (Theatre Royal Stratford East), We Anchor in Hope (The Bunker) and Aisha (Old Red Lion). For TV, Alex’s recent credits include the BAFTA-nominated Channel 4 mini-series Adult Material, BBC 2 historical sit-com The Witchfinder and the 2018-19 BBC mini-series of Les Misérables.

Bartholomew will be played by Obioma Ugoala who returns to the RSC following previous roles in Richard II and Henry IV Parts I & II, Henry V, The Mouse and His Child, and The Merry Wives of Windsor. Obioma recently played the role of Kristoff in the West End production of Disney’s Frozen. Obioma’s other theatre credits include The Lost Love Speakeasy (The Lost Estate), Much Ado About Nothing (New English Shakespeare Company), Hamilton (West End), Motown (West End), Holy Warriors, Antony and Cleopatra (Shakespeare’s Globe), The Jungle Book, Crime and Punishment (Glasgow Citizens Theatre), Neighbors (HideTide/Nuffield Theatre) and The Physicists (Donmar Warehouse).

Harmony Rose-Bremner and Frankie Hastings will play the roles of Susanna and Eliza/Caterina respectively. Both graduates of RADA, Harmony’s previous theatre and TV credits include NW Trilogy (Kiln Theatre), Fifteen-Love and Death in Paradise (Red Planet Pictures) whilst Frankie’s screen credits include roles in Call the Midwife (ITV) and the Oscar award-winning film Belfast

Hannah McPake will play the role of Jude. Hannah has performed for the Sherman Cymru, Told by an Idiot, Improbable, Spymonkey, Shakespeare’s Globe, National Theatre of Scotland, National Theatre Wales and China Plate. Her most recent theatre credits include Romeo & Juliet, The Knight of the Burning Pestle (Shakespeare’s Globe), I Am Kevin (Wildworks), Tales of the Brothers Grimm, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, A Christmas Carol, Alice in Wonderland, The Wind in the Willows, Maudie’s Rooms, Cinders, Plum (And Me, Will) (Sherman Theatre), The Shape of the Pain (China Plate) and I Am Thomas (Told By An Idiot/National Theatre Scotland/Lyceum Theatre). TV and film credits include Casualty, Skins Series V and Trollied. Hannah is the co-founder of multi award-winning company Gagglebabble, An Associate Artist of Theatr Iolo and a current recipient of NTW Radical Creatures Commission.

The roles of Burbage/Father John will be played by Will Brown, who last visited the Royal Shakespeare Company in 2018 in The Duchess of Malfi and The Fantastic Follies of Mrs Rich where he played the roles of Roderigo and Jack respectively. Will’s other theatre credits include The False Servant (Orange Tree), Inheritance Blues (Hightide Festival, Soho Theatre, Sheffield Crucible and West Yorkshire Playhouse), The Merry Wives of Windsor (Redgrave Theatre), The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe (Redgrave Theatre), Fade (DugOut Theatre) and The Journey (Pleasance Theatre). Will’s TV credits include The Outlaws, Disability Benefits, The B@IT, The Nevers, Midsomer Murders, Unforgotten, Call the Midwife, Doctor Who and Spotless.

Completing the cast are Haydn Burke (Ensemble), Faye Campbell (Ensemble), Karl Haynes (Ned) and Rose Riley (Tilly/ Caterina).