Madeleine Mantock discusses the challenges of bringing the central character of a beloved novel to life on stage in the world premiere of Hamnet.
How did the role come about?
I was invited to audition by Amy Ball. I had primarily worked in TV after graduation, but I made my West End debut playing Elvira in Blithe Spirit in 2021 directed by Richard Eyre, which perhaps helped people to see me in a different light.
What was your first encounter with Hamnet?
I read Lolita’s (Chakrabarti) adaptation before my first audition. I chose a couple of scenes to read and actually held off on reading the book until I was cast. I already had quite a strong connection to Agnes and didn’t want to be completely heartbroken if I didn't get the role.
I remember feeling quite dissatisfied with the job I’d done that day, and went home deflated, so it just goes to show that sometimes we are our own worst critics.
What makes Agnes special?
I really enjoy playing the facets of Agnes. She has second sight and is a healer, connected to the earth. Although downtrodden, she has a fiery tenacity and senses a path to freedom with William. As time goes on, she recognises his need to escape and facilitates for him to go so he can fulfil his potential.
What is the play about?
It’s about love and loss and the different ways people grieve. It’s about family.
How did you approach the role in rehearsal and performance?
This story and this character are beloved and, at times, I worried that I might fail to do Agnes justice. Erica Whyman, our director, gave me support and confidence to trust myself and my instincts.
The challenge and the joy has been to try to drop in to the emotional truth of each scene as it arrives and then on to the next. To play each moment, scene and day as new.
And your favourite scene?
It can change every night but I really like getting to play the bittersweet parting of William leaving for London. It comes at a cost to Agnes but she knows that his happiness and success need to be cultivated elsewhere.
How do you now feel about theatre work?
I love the immediacy and intimacy of it. Sometimes you have to act opposite a taped mark on the wall in screen acting, so to always have your scene partner's eyes is thrilling for me.
We’ve had some really wonderful audiences too and they are just as much a part of the performance as we are.
Has this been a pathway for you to Shakespeare?
I hope it can be. I can give myself half a tick for working at the RSC, but I’d definitely love to return to act in a Shakespeare play.
Viv Graver is a retired teacher, who taught Shakespeare for more than 30 years in the north of England. Her present interest is introducing Shakespeare into primary schools. Viv's blog is a series of interviews with RSC cast and creatives about their path to Shakespeare and how they first came to it, at school and elsewhere.