Through October 7
Emerson Paramount Center
Reviewed by Bobby Franklin
The U.S. premiere of Dead Centre’s Hamnet now playing at the Emerson Paramount Centre in Boston is a powerful 60 minutes of theatre. The multi media production brings us into the world, past and present, of Shakespeare’s only son Hamnet who died at the age of 11. The work is an original, creative, and very interesting look at the relationship between a father and son, and the effect that relationship, or lack of, has on the mind and emotions of a young boy.
I say past and present as the ghost of Hamnet fills the theater in what could be seen as a mix of Hamlet and Waiting For Godot. Ollie West plays the title character who brings us into his world as he deals with the struggle to understand his relationship, or lack of, with his famous father whom he barely knew. Young West is first seen live with a knapsack projected onto a large screen as he makes his way from the audience onto the stage. The screen and the projections on it will be used to incredible effect throughout the performance.
We learn right off this isn’t going to be a historical work, but instead a metaphysical exploration. While bouncing a ball off the screen Hamnet tries to explain, with the use of Google, the theory of quantum tunneling. He admits he has no idea what it means but assure us if his father were there he would know.
What’s in a name? A lot when your father is William Shakespeare. But it is not the name Shakespeare that troubles him. Hamnet is aware that his name today is most often seen as a typo, and he is trying to measure his self worth. Hamnet has many questions and turns to the audience and Google for answers. But as Vladimir and Estragon find in Godot, often times there simply are no answers.
“Why would anyone chose not to be?” is one of those questions, and in the remarkable scene where he gets to face his father he asks that, and many others. The scene is done with the senior Shakespeare appearing on the screen with his son. Hamnet is seen both on the screen as well as on the stage itself at the same time. Shakespeare is with him on the screen throughout most of this time, giving it a Banquo’s ghost flavor. I’m not sure how all of this was done, but it is amazing to watch. The fact that there is a bit of the handy dandy to it does not diminish how powerful the dialog between father and son is. Whether you see the work of Shakespeare in this conversation, or Beckett, or even Bart Simpson, you will be touched by it. Can fathers and sons ever understand each other? Here, they do try, but it is emotional and awkward for them.
Using the relationship between Hamnet and Will Shakespeare to explore so many questions does not limit us to just these two people. It speaks to all of us, and it will leave you with more questions than answers, but also with more understanding.
Ollie West, who is simply outstanding as Hamnet, will be replaced by Aran Murphy midway through this run. I highly recommend you take in this amazing production. I would even go as far as saying it would be worth seeing a second time when the cast change is made.