David Mitchell Steals The Show In The Upstart Crow

The Upstart Crow, Gielgud Theatre ★★★★☆

Hari Mountford
By Hari Mountford Last edited 52 months ago

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Last Updated 21 February 2020

David Mitchell Steals The Show In The Upstart Crow The Upstart Crow, Gielgud Theatre 4
Photo: Johan Persson

What do you get if you cross a classic pantomime with William Shakespeare, Ben Elton, and then add in the comedic timing of David Mitchell for good measure? Enter (stage left) The Upstart Crow, a new production at the Gielgud Theatre based on Ben Elton's recent successful TV sitcom. With a cast that is nigh on perfection (Steve Speirs, Mark Heap, Gemma Whelan and Rob Rouse all feature) expect a history lesson by way of codpieces, comedy and dancing bears.

The Upstart Crow cleverly succeeds in taking key Shakespearean traits — the classic 'aside', the iambic pentameter — and superimposing them onto the pantomime-esque humour of a load of men in tights and puffy shorts. There's a shipwreck, long lost twins, disguises, a dancing bear and a sleeping potion — The Upstart Crow takes elements from the Bard's most famous comedies and tragedies to create a play about Shakespeare that is perhaps more Shakespearian than Shakespeare himself. That doesn't mean you need to know the Bard's complete works back to front to get the humour, the play will have die-hard fans and unbelievers alike in stitches.

Photo: Johan Persson

It's hard to say whether David Mitchell or the dancing bear gets more applause — nevertheless, Mitchell can only be described as the perfect Shakespeare, and steals the show. His landlord's daughter, Kate (Gemma Whelan), who plays an aspiring actor at a time when women weren't allowed to grace the stage, is equally fantastic. There are mentions of same sex relationships, race and ethnicity, because "all plays have to mention these things now". Let that serve as a reminder that the play, is most definitely in touch with 2020 popular culture.

Less highbrow than The Globe, less lowbrow than a panto, The Upstart Crow is without a doubt one of this year's top productions. With the perfect mix of schoolboy humour, literary references, historical facts and over the top plot twists, this is a mix that could only ever come together with the unique and utterly clever writing of Ben Elton, who knows exactly what the futtock he is doing (even swear words a given a Shakespearean twist in this show). Unlike many of the actual Shakespeare's 'comedies', which have plenty of elements of 'tragedy', The Upstart Crow is 100% the former.

The Upstart Crow, Gielgud Theatre, Shaftesbury Ave, W1D 6AR. Tickets from £15. Until 25 April