Did You Know Shakespeare Had a Daughter? This Edinburgh Fringe Show Will Tell You All About Her
Upstart! explores Judith's story, which is often overshadowed by her father's—and even her twin brother's.
The Edinburgh Festival Fringe is the biggest arts festival in the world, with nearly 3,500 shows. This year, Playbill is in Edinburgh for the entire month in August for the festival and we’re taking you with us. Follow along as we cover every single aspect of the Fringe, aka our real-life Brigadoon!
The famous playwright William Shakespeare had three children, the most famous of which is his only son Hamnet. Hamnet died at age 11, and scholars have worked to find connections between his place in Shakespeare's life, and how his death influenced Shakespeare's works. Hamnet is even the subject of an upcoming West End play. But, Hamnet had a twin, a sister named Judith. And the new Fringe play Upstart! Shakespeare's Rebel Daughter Judith is interested in telling her story.
Making its U.K. premiere at Gilded Balloon's Patter Hoose through August 27, the work was written by American playwright Mary Jan Schaefer. Judith, at the end of her life, reflects on it and her position in history. Using the historical record as a guide, Schaefer delivers a portrait of a woman who wants more of out of life than is available to her because of her gender.
Below, Maddy Mutch, the producer of the Fringe run talks about why she became interested in Schaefer's work. She also gives a peek behind-the-scenes at what it's been like to world premiere it at the Fringe.
How did Upstart! begin?
Maddy Mutch: Our director, and my close friend and longtime colleague, Alexandra Spencer-Jones met playwright Mary Jane Schaefer whilst in New York for her production of A Clockwork Orange. They bonded over a mutual love for everything Shakespeare, which prompted Mary Jane to share her wonderful trio of plays. The play about Judith Shakespeare—now Upstart!—had previously had public readings in the US. We’re now thrilled to get it fully on its feet, and to share it with audiences in Edinburgh
What compelled you to tell this story?
A couple of other works have brought me back into Shakespeare’s biography recently. Like many, I adored Maggie O’Farrell’s novel Hamnet and the Globe’s Emilia is one of my favorite pieces of theatre in recent years. So, few people know anything of Hamnet’s surviving twin. But her story is worth telling. Mary Jane Schaefer has provided such wonderful insight through this play, and so I thought it deserved a stage and an audience.
Why did you want to bring it to the Fringe?
Honestly, for all of the challenges (and there are plenty), there’s nowhere quite like it for showcasing new work. It’s the most amazing environment to put work out into the world, trial it for future life, and get critical responses and audience feedback.
What’s been the biggest challenge?
I’m certainly not the first to say this, but finances. I thought we’d budgeted fairly comfortably, but everything is so much more expensive than anticipated.
What’s been the biggest reward?
It’s all been an amazing experience, and it’s wonderful to be back at the Fringe—I’ve not brought a show since 2014. The reviews have been the biggest reward for Upstart!, the critical response has been brilliant. I’m so proud.
What’s something you’ve learned about doing Fringe?
That the landscape is ever changing, and that the tiniest change to the ecosystem makes all the difference. The whole festival seems a lot kinder this year, communication is generally better across the board. Whilst there are obvious issues post-COVID (expense, lack of technical staff, etc.), there seems to be a better support system in place to help you cope as a producer.