Words: Robert Parker-White
There have been many fictional biographical works on Shakespeare’s life seen on stage in recent years including; Shakespeare in Love, Upstart Crow and Hamnet but Upstart! Shakespeare’s Rebel Daughter Judith takes a stab at something a bit different; the life and times of Judith Quiney, one of The Bard’s daughters.
Taking historical fact and mixing it with imagined circumstances, American writer, Mary Jane Schaefer cleverly infuses fact with fiction in this fascinating historical flick. We follow Judith Shakespeare as she navigates life as a woman in 17th Century Stratford-Upon-Avon, the death of her twin brother and her struggles as the daughter of the most famous playwright the world has ever seen. Schaefer reimagines Judith as a woman with agency and drive.
Alexandra Spencer-Jones directs this exquisite production with skill, splitting the stage in two with Old Judith (Susannah May) recounting her life story on the right of the stage and her memories appearing before us on the left. Rachel Kitts makes us genuinely root for the titular upstart young Judith. Aisling Groves-McKeown is an emotional powerhouse as Judith’s Mother, Anne Hathaway. Luke Millard perfectly encapsulates Shakespeare as a flawed genius giving into the temptation of fame. Becky Sanneh showcases her versatility playing both Emilia, his ambitious mistress and Susannah, his bitter daughter. Angus Bhattacharya is suitably machiavellian as Judith’s Husband, Tom Quiney. Oscar Blend and Roddy Lynch round the strong cast playing several fun comic cameos throughout.
The rollercoaster scene in which Tom finally asks Judith to marry him, but then admits it’s only to avoid marrying a local wench who he has impregnated out of wedlock, is emotionally raw and genuinely moving. The death of Hamnet is another heart wrenching scene which will stay with you long after you leave the theatre. Upstart! Shakespeare’s Rebel Daughter Judith is an ambitious little show which packs a mighty punch.
Upstart! Shakespeare’s Rebel Daughter Judith
Gilded Balloon Patter Hoose, Big Yin