5 Questions is a series by Steve Duffy –
William Shakespeare had one son: Hamnet. The young boy never knew his famous father, but in this riveting tour-de-force from Ireland, Shakespeare’s only son finally takes center stage. How do our dreams impact our families? Do adults really have it all figured out? Or are we blind to what we could have done better until it’s too late? In Hamnet, a commanding performance from a young actor confronts what it means—and what it costs—to be great. In this moving, meticulous, multimedia wonder, ambition clashes with family responsibilities in a way that rivals the stakes of a great Shakespearean tragedy.
SD: What influenced you to tell the story of Hamnet?
BM: The name Hamnet being one letter away from the more familiar play and name that we know – I got interested when I learned that was the name of Shakespeare’s son. I assumed it was a typo. I found it curious to find out that this person actually did exist. The only information available about him was that he was born and died 11 years later. As a writer, having no information available is usually a good thing because it means you can get to work and not be inhibited by the inconvenience of reality, and you can just invent. This play is really based on my intrigue of the name and within that the mood and idea that Hamnet experiences that he was one letter away from entering history.
SD: With little information about Hamnet, how did you do research?
BM: Given that, you know you are not doing a biography or history. You can steer yourself into what you are looking for. I was looking for feelings and mood and of course thinking of theatre in general. In the wider sense, there is an opportunity to for a performance with an 11-year old. For this story, I was trying to chase something that I had never seen in theatre. It’s an hour-long monologue with the performer mediating on grief and other adult-themed stuff.
SD: How did break up the pressure for Ollie, to help him become comfortable on stage by himself?
BM: When I was first writing the script, I thought I would add some animals. It is one of the reasons that he signed on to do the play. Having the animals in the play with him was not a false promise, but an early stage of the writing process. There might be a dog in it. Given the grief that he is going to go through, I then thought there should be a raven in it.
SD: What do you hope the audience will take away from Hamnet?
BM: Well, I was just saying to a colleague, I never have set designs when I make a play and know the purpose. When someone makes a product to sell, the purpose is to make money off it. When you make art, you really don’t know what it is for. We know that we need it, but we don’t know what that need is. It’s quite mysterious. So, the effect that you hope these things have really is unknown. Not to avoid the question, but the ambition is to really tap into what we don’t know. If it’s a comedy, I want them to laugh. If it’s a tragedy, I want them to cry. I want the audience to experience the same emotions as I did writing it.
SD: What kind of theatre excites you?
BM: Things that I don’t know what they are. Where was I taken emotionally and how did they do that. When I can’t fathom the mechanic of a story, you got me.
Hamnet is now playing at the Emerson Paramount Center through October 7, 2018.
For show and ticket information, visit www.artsemerson.org