New BAM artistic director David Binder continues his season of BAM debuts with Hamnet, presented by Ireland’s Dead Centre. In 1585, William Shakespeare’s wife, Anne Hathaway, gave birth to twins, son Hamnet and daughter Judith. Hamnet died tragically in 1596 at the age of eleven; three years later, the Bard wrote perhaps his greatest play, Hamlet, at least partly about a young man haunted by the death of his father. Founded in 2012 by Bush Moukarzel and Ben Kidd and based between Dublin and London, Dead Centre has previously staged Beckett’s Room, Lippy, (S)quark!, Souvenir, Chekhov’s First Play, and Shakespeare’s Last Play; all but Lippy deal with writers, including James Joyce and Marcel Proust in addition to Samuel Beckett, Anton Chekhov, and Shakespeare. It has long been debated whether Shakespeare wrote Hamlet specifically in reaction to the death of his son, or whether Hamnet also inspired part of other works. For example, in King John, published in 1623, Constance says, “Grief fills the room up of my absent child.”
“Over centuries of feverish speculation, the most compelling reflections on the presence of Shakespeare’s emotional life in his plays — preeminently, James Joyce’s brilliant pages in Ulysses, but there are many others — have focused on Hamlet,” Shakespeare expert Stephen Greenblatt wrote in 2014 in the New York Review of Books. “This biographical attention to a work deriving from recycled materials and written for the public stage would seem inherently implausible, were it not for the overwhelming impression on readers and spectators alike that the play must have emerged in an unusually direct way from the playwright’s inner life, indeed that at moments the playwright was barely in control of his materials. I will attempt in what follows to trace Hamlet back to a personal experience of grief and to sketch a long-term aesthetic strategy that seems to have emerged from this experience.” The sixty-minute multimedia piece, running October 30 to November 3 at BAM Fisher, features text and direction by Moukarzel and Kidd, with dramaturgy by Michael West, set design by Andrew Clancy, costumes by Grace O’Hara, lighting by Stephen Dodd, sound by Kevin Gleeson, video by Jose Miguel Jimenez, and choreography by Liv O’Donoghue. Aran Murphy plays Hamnet, addressing the audience directly as he shares his tragic tale.