If ever a TV show seemed to be written with the stage in mind, then that show is Upstart Crow. For the most part played as a sort of pantomime, this comedy about Shakespeare is full of panto villains, knock about humour and cheeky nods to audience.
That’s not to say that it isn’t any good. It is. Clever, witty and well acted, the show has single handedly revived the reputation of writer Ben Elton after a series of mediocre comedies. No, Upstart Crow is very good. It’s just that you always suspect it might be even better in the West End.
That’s why City Countdown was so delighted to learn about the stage version of the show. Shaftesbury Avenue’s Gielgud Theatre is the venue for a production that will reunite the brilliant David Mitchell (Shakespeare) with Gemma Whelan, reviving her role as Kate. As is often the way with stage productions, other cast members will be announced nearer to the opening night.
Set in Elizabethan England, the show gives us a comic glimpse into the personal life of the bard. The story takes us into Shakespeare’s marital home where we find three generations of the family living together. There’s Shakespeare’s wife Anne; Shakespeare’s mother and father John and Mary; and the Bard’s daughter Susanna. This cosy group is completed by a cheeky manservant called… wait for it… Bottom.
Written to commemorate the 400th birthday of the Bard, Upstart Crow does for Shakespeare what Blackadder did for Rowan Atkinson’s eponymous title character. Mitchell is brilliant in the leading role, offering up an overly pompous yet still endearing version of England’s great ever writer.
The show extracts great comic value from the mores and prohibitions of Elizabethan England with jokes about the monarchy, the aristocracy, the role of women in 16th century England and public transport (or the lack of it).
The tv show cleverly re-examines the inspiration behind some of the Bard’s greatest works with each episode looking at a different play.
Little is known about the plot of the stage show yet; however, it is thought that it will not stray too far away from the formula of the tv show.
Talking about the show’s stage debut, Mitchell said: “I’m delighted to have the opportunity to bring history’s most famous balding dramatist to the West End via the amazing comic imagination of Ben Elton. Theatre goers can look forward to a comedy steeped in authentic Shakespearean ambience in every way apart from the smell.”
The stage version of Upstart Crow will be directed by Sean Foley (The Man in the White Suit) with an original script by Ben Elton.