ArtsEmerson is no stranger to presenting phenomenal performances built around individual, singular voices. In the past, the Paramount and Cutler Majestic Theatres have been graced with solo performances such as Mala, Mr. Joy, A Beckett Trilogy: Not I / Footfalls / Rockaby, and 17 Border Crossings–just to name a recent few. In our 2018/19 Season, we are lucky enough to welcome a number of solo performances, including The Peculiar Patriot, WET: A DACAmented Journey and American Moor. Although these shows are all vastly different from one another, they all have one similarity: the primary performer is an adult.
This is not the case with our season opener, Hamnet. Coming from Dublin via the Dead Centre theatre company, Hamnet features a young actor performing a brilliant, funny, and emotional monologue, alone on stage, for nearly the entirety of the play. The title role was originated by the talented Ollie West and is now being performed in repertory with Aran Murphy, a Dublin native who is just ten and a half years old. Both actors will perform the show here in Boston.
West and Murphy have accepted the daunting task of commanding the stage and capturing the audience’s imagination throughout the hour long performance; the show is only augmented by video projections and a brief appearance from Hamnet’s father, William Shakespeare. For these young actors, there is no hiding. The performance is entirely their own and the result is one of the most unique theatrical experiences you’ll find in Boston this year.
When West was asked by the Irish Times why he accepted the role, his reply was a great indicator that while his on-stage talents are entirely on par with most adults, he’s still just a kid. “I want to do [the play] for three reasons,” he said. “Number one, there’s a dog in it. Number two, there’s a bird in it. And number three, I’m in it.” The dog and bird were eventually cut from the production, but whatever precisely made the role alluring to West, audiences should be thankful. The Guardian called his performance “riveting” and The Independent declared him to be an “extraordinarily natural talent.”
As Hamnet, West and Murphy simultaneously navigate the complex relationship between a son and his absent father while simultaneously exploring the difficulties of growing up in the shadow of artistic greatness. Not only does Hamnet require West and Murphy to comprehend heavy, adult themes, but also demands the boys seamlessly interact with the audience and time their movements perfectly to be in synch with video projections.
— Dead Centre (@Dead_Centre) April 6, 2017
Watch for the subtle nods to the structure of the show itself, such as when Hamnet hilariously tells the audience, “child characters are unreliable.” However, as this show portrays, there is a great amount of insight to be learned from children, especially young performers like West and Murphy who have a special capacity to tell a story with plenty of honesty and candor. In Hamnet, audiences witness a father-son relationship entirely through the perspective of the child; you may find yourself exiting the theater observing the world, once again, with adolescent wonder.