Upstart! Shakespeare's Rebel Daughter Judith

Mary Jane Schaefer
Maddy Mutch Productions
Gilded Balloon Patter Hoose

Upstart poster
Character Judith

A lady in her 70s sits stage left when a cleric comes to hear her story. She is William Shakespeare’s daughter, Judith (Susannah May), and he wants to hear her side of the great man’s life. Judith is not amused! The play alternates between Judith’s present and flashbacks to her youth, acted out on the other side of the stage, with Rachel Kitts as a young Judith.

Feeling half a person after the death of her twin brother, Hamnet, Judith is desperate to get closer to her father. Following the examples of his heroines, she dresses as a boy and goes to London to seek him out. She does not expect what she finds and rebellion ensues.

The other six actors, some playing multiple roles, are experienced and capable dealing well with the limitations imposed on them, mind shouting is not always required to express annoyance! Some play instruments and sing well, but what the music or songs had to do with the story eluded me. Someone or thing hiding the light from backstage when they entered or exited through a black would also have been less distracting.

To get multiple locations, furniture, props, eight actors and solid screens at the back all on a small stage about 5ft in depth is not easy and also not necessary. All these items needing actors to continually bring them on and off, many not even used. True, dressing is very nice but not when it hampers the actor’s movement and serves no purpose. Yes, a large shopping basket says you have been to market, but if you say you have, that is enough, especially when it is put on the floor empty, not used then taken off. A kitchen / dining table may have a bowl of fruit and other items on, but if not used, they just add more clutter to an already packed acting area. How many times does one say ‘less is more’?

While the costumes were correct, why did the poor young actor playing Judith have to suffer the indignity of such a head piece, which some may call a wig? A simple bonnet with some grey hair showing would have sufficed. Even when the actor was in the dark, it was hard to take one’s eyes off it. A 1950s brass fire screen was a bone of contention as one wondered why it was in the corner, almost centre stage, with a coal scuttle, not even the correct period, only to have a book thrown behind it late on, as it was representing ‘fire hearth’, anyone think of changing the line?

The overall idea and subject is original, early 17th century unconventional woman who stood up for herself, even though overshadowed by her famous father. It would be interesting to know if the American—yes American—playwright, Mary Jane Schaefer, based this story all on facts she must have researched about Judith, Shakespeare’s real daughter, or took some theatrical licence with it.

Not many Fringe productions are blessed with eight good actors, a set, costumes and props, which somehow got lost. The title alone is excessive, no need to say it's Judith, Shakespeare’s Rebel Daughter would suffice. That may be a little picky for some, but a title needs as much thought as the text.

There is the essence of an interesting play here; if direction and staging are simplified and it tries more to rely on its good storyline, maybe it will be revisited.

Reviewer: Anna Ambelez

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