Meet Alexandra Spencer-Jones, Director of EdFringe’s ‘Upstart! Shakespeare’s Rebel Daughter Judith’

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We’ve all heard of William Shakespeare, but how much do we know about his daughter Judith? Mary Jane Schaefer’s play Upstart! Shakespeare’s Rebel Daughter Judith aims to give Judith a voice. An unconventional woman who refused to conform to gender norms, Upstart follows Judith as she grieves her twin brother Hamnet and resolves to shape her own future.

The Indiependent spoke to director Alexandra Spencer-Jones ahead of the play’s UK premiere at Edinburgh Fringe.

The Indiependent: What is the premise of Upstart!

Alexandra Spencer-Jones: We see the world through the eyes of Judith, Shakespeare’s very cool younger daughter, exploring the poignant conflicts of the Bard’s challenging family life with the creation of The Complete Works.

The show’s main character Judith can be described as a “feminist born before her time”. Do you think it’s important to have strong female characters in theatre?

It is vital. Judith is a proto-feminist, to some extent so was her father, and it is our obligation as modern theatre makers to present equality on stage. The play has three feminist perspectives, all coming from slightly different angles and it is a pleasure to work with feminist writing and a truly feminist ensemble. It is important to probe the historic constraints of women to see how far we’ve come—only to then realise how far we still need to go.

Have you faced any challenges while rehearsing the show?

Upstart is a pleasure to rehearse, with a great script and a lovely ensemble. My major challenge, as a true disciple of Will Shakespeare, is to strip him bare of some of his art and expose him as a normal man.

How are you feeling about this year’s Fringe? 

Excited. It’ll be lovely to be back at the Fringe now it is in full flow again.

Who inspires you? 

I love the work of Punchdrunk Theatre and have always been inspired by the amazing Peter Brook. I’m also inspired by the amazing companies I work with all the time. I’m surrounded by extremely talented artists.

You enjoy directing Shakespeare shows. Out of all the plays you’ve worked on, what’s been your favourite and why?

Titus Andronicus is a difficult one to beat, full of drama, family politics and the base behaviour that people are capable of when their families are threatened. I’ve directed the play twice. It is widely considered one of Shakespeare’s cruder works, early in his career and a bit rough and ready—but I absolutely love it!

What’s next for you after the Fringe? 

I’m directing Romeo & Juliet for my own company Action To The Word, in Hong Kong and Singapore.

Upstart! Shakespeare’s Rebel Daughter Judith will be performed at Gilded Patter Hoose – Big Yin at 12:10pm from 6-27 (not 15) August as part of Edinburgh Fringe.

Words by Ellen Leslie

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