Based on the outstanding sell-out book by Maggie O’Farrell, Lolita Chakrabarti adapts the story for the stage under the RSC, which just recently transferred to West End at the Garrick Theatre. This being such a widely known story it is likely to match the book in being a sell-out, however we lose so much of the quality and depth of the characters to perhaps fit the time frame. We are introduced to Agnes (Madeleine Mantock) a young woman in Warwickshire inspired by plants, herbs and natural resources- she meets her new Latin tutor, William (Tom Varey). From there, they fall in love and Agnes falls pregnant out of wedlock. Quickly married and now twins on the way William goes to London to pursue his writing. Although we have moments with William as his career takes off, we stay with the women left behind. As the children grow up there is always a lingering feeling of doom which Agnes is aware of. She grips her children tightly with so much love as if she knows it’ll be short lived. Hamnet (the male twin) falls ill and dies not long after we have officially met him in the production, the fall out being terrible grief and a beautifully sad performance by remaining twin Judith (Alex Jarrett). In tribute, Will writes Hamlet in which he immortalises Hamnet.
The story moves at such a fast pace but still has an ability to be flat, the energy was so low making those moments of silence awkward rather than powerful. This also meant that a lot of this play was made up of short scenes which never allowed us to really get to know these people, if the book was created from a passion to let Agnes live and create a legacy separate to Shakespeare, this production still very much felt like a ‘Shakespeare… and family’ story. We spent a lot of time with Agnes from childhood to motherhood and then through grief, but I couldn’t quite latch on or connect with their love story and I can’t quite pinpoint why. Act 2, we are finally introduced to the children who bring a lot of life to the stage, they become ill almost immediately which brought the pace back to that slow, stagnant feeling.
The truly mesmerising thing about this production is the creative team behind the design. It’s smart, interesting and offers a lot for the cast to use throughout. Designer Tom Piper, lighting by Prema Mehta and sound by Simon Baker created a gorgeous world to watch with little subtle changes as we move through time.
Overall, I wanted less of a time lapse of their whole life done as quickly as it had been done and more moments with the characters so I could learn and begin to care about them. It felt more like a history lesson rather than an ode to Agnes and her forgotten place next to Shakespeare.
Reviewer: Alice Rose
Reviewed: 19th October 2023
North West End UK Rating: