The Schaubühne received a few phone calls after releasing the programme for FIND, alerting them to a typo: 'Hamlet' had been written as 'Hamnet'. Politely thanked for their concern, the self-appointed copy editors were assured that the spelling was indeed correct. Hamnet is the name of Shakespeare’s son who died suddenly at the age of 11. Shakespeare was working remotely for most of the boy's childhood and was unable to make it back in time to see him in his final days.
The scenario constructed by Dead Centre is paired down to a single continuous dialogue, first Hamnet addressing the audience and then Hamnet speaking to Shakespeare (who appears primarily in holographic form). The stage set is sparse, consisting of a grey courtyard in front of a large screen onto which is projected a live stream of the reverse view of the stage, which of course incorporates the audience into its image. Onto this barren square sandwiched between audience - real and projected - walks a boy, red shirt, blue sweatshirt, modern trainers and a massive backpack that dwarfs his small figure.
He begins speaking to us and we enter into the liminal space he inhabits. Eternally 11, waiting to meet his father, waiting for his voice to drop, disconnected from the world (besides Google and some references to Johnny Cash). He removes a ball from his large backpack of props and starts throwing it against the screen, counting flatly - he is already above a hundred thousand. This monotonous task is encouraged by the notion of quantum tunnelling, a quantum mechanics phenomenon the boy doesn’t much understand (few do!) but that in essence, applied to this scenario, would indicate that if the ball is thrown against the wall an infinite number of times it will eventually go through. We feel the psychological weight of the boy's limbo.
The image of a boy throwing a ball against a wall to infinity in an attempt to escape or access the world of the living, calls up feelings of horror, but Hamnet presents this scene to us so matter-of-factly that we cannot help but laugh. The quality of the boy’s reality being liminal does not just draw from its existence between the world of the dead and that of the living. It is also a parodic space and the heaviness of its narrative components are continuously interrupted by humour. The undertone of absurdity even preceded the premiere of the play when the name was mistaken for a typo. Hamnet grapples with being overshadowed by his quasi-fictional namesake and has been practising the play in anticipation of one day meeting his father. Facing the audience, Hamnet playing Hamlet, poses the infamous question “To be or not to be?” a moment both tragic and absurd. As a living ghost haunted by phantoms of the real world, Hamnet does not seem either to be or not. Furthermore the very fact of the question itself resonates with a tone of ridiculousness. We are reminded that only some are given the choice of existence; Hamnet cannot continue with his oration (though he later exclaims “I choose to be!,” uselessly).
Maxine for DRAFF