“She’s the kind of character I hope everyone might see a bit of themselves in”: Madeleine Mantock on Hamnet at Garrick Theatre
Madeleine Mantock joined the cast of Hamnet, playing Agnes Hathaway, William Shakespeare’s wife, in its sell-out run at the Swan Theatre in Straford-upon-Avon. The play, adapted from Maggie O’Farrell’s best-selling novel, transferred to the West End’s Garrick Theatre in September. We caught up with Mantock about how she is finding the transition to the London stage, her connection to Shakespeare and what she would like audiences to take away from her character.
Did you have a strong connection to Shakespeare prior to Hamnet? Has working on the play increased your interest in his work and life?
I’ve always enjoyed watching his plays and reading his sonnets and was really inspired by the ShakespeaRe-Told series when I was growing up. It was wonderful to be in Stratford and really get a first-hand experience of his hometown and see all the work that’s been done to remember him.
To what extent was the novel’s author, Maggie O’Farrell, involved in the play’s devising and rehearsal process? In what ways do you think the play differs from the novel?
Maggie came to meet us pretty early in our original rehearsal process. It was quite nerve-wracking because we hadn’t really started to build the play yet, but we did a script-in-hand version of the second part of the play for her. Luckily for us, she’s incredibly supportive and open. The play is different in that we have a mostly chronological narrative, but the characters people know from the novel will be on stage.
Typically, little focus is given to Shakespeare’s wife, Agnes. What has been the most enjoyable part of discovering her life and character?
It’s been really encouraging to embody someone who is both brilliant and burdened. To play through such a stretch of someone’s life and the events within it is a challenge but also why I wanted to be involved.
The play’s central focus is on a parent’s grief. Has it been challenging to delve into such a gut-wrenching theme?
We’ve worked hard to be specific about how each character responds to their grief and I try to honour that. I want to do it justice every night, and whilst it can be challenging to dip into that place eight times a week, you do build a stamina for it.
Following a sold-out run in the Stratford-upon-Avon, how does it feel that Hamnet is transferring to the Garrick Theatre in the West End?!
It feels really special. We did the first iteration in Shakespeare’s birthplace and now we’re bringing it to his cultural home. We’re making the same journey that he did.
Have any adjustments been made to the play for the new space?
We’ve been welcomed into the lovely Garrick Theatre and have had to make some adjustments. We don’t have the same entrances and exits and we’ve also redeveloped some of the play so it feels very familiar but also different.
You have experience in screen and stage acting. Do you have a preference for one over the other? If so, why?
I enjoy both for different reasons. With screen work, the camera becomes your additional scene partner and I really enjoy the technical challenge of working with it to elevate the scene for the viewer. On stage, your audience is there in the room with you and each one responds to different parts of the play, so it’s a fun task to stay present and ride the wave each show.
The West End run of Hamnet is over three months long. Is stamina a challenge, and do you have methods for keeping your connection to the performance and character fresh?
I found during the Stratford run that my stamina built the more I trusted myself, the rest of the cast and the work that we’d done. It proved that if you have a strong foundation, you can rely on it on the days when you don’t feel as mentally or emotionally connected as you might like. I always try to take each performance and each scene anew. Sometimes it can help to take a word and have that be the focus. If I’ve been given a note from our director, I will try to distil it so I can use it to help guide me for that show.
What is your dream Shakespeare role to play in future, and why?
Peter Wight told me I’d make a good Cleopatra, so maybe I can realise that one day!
What would you like audiences to take away from the character of Agnes, and the play in general?
I’m trying to play Agnes as a complete person, someone who lives through highs and lows, and experiences feeling everything and nothing. She’s the kind of character that I hope everyone might see a bit of themselves in. And I hope that people can enjoy the story and go on the journey with us. There’s something for everyone: interesting family dynamics, a love story, discovering and nurturing your passions, losing hope and finding it again.
Photos: Manuel Harlan