Ben Elton brings his critically acclaimed and much adored BBC sitcom UPSTART CROW to its natural home, the stage, with an all-new comic play set to delight London’s West End. Starring David Mitchell, once more donning the bald wig and bardish coddling pouch in his iconic characterisation of Will Shakespeare and Gemma Whelan as the sweet and fragrant Kate.
‘Tis 1605 and England’s greatest playwright is in trouble. Will Shakespeare has produced just two plays; Measure for Measure, which according to King James was incomprehensible bollingbrokes by any measure, and All’s Well That End’s Well which didn’t even end well.
Will desperately needs to maketh a brilliant new play to bolster his reputation and avoid being cast aside by King and country. But Will’s personal life is encountering more dramatic twists and turns than any theatrical story he can conjure. How the futtock can a Bard be expected to find a plot for a play whilst his daughters run amok and his house is used as refuge for any old waif and stray.
As time runs out, can Will hold on to his dream of being recognised now and for all time, as indisputably the greatest writer that ever lived, or will family woes thwart Will’s chances of producing his masterwork?
‘The most consistently funny comedy since One Man Two Guvnors.’ ★★★★★ The Guardian
‘A hit, a hit, an implausible hit!’ ★★★★ The Independent
‘Elton’s brilliant Upstart Crow is Jacobean satire straight out of the Blackadder playbook’ ★★★★ Daily Mail
‘This play deserves love lavished upon it. It is hard to resist the delirious silliness. Entirely captivating’ ★★★★ What’s On Stage
‘The laughter is communal and continual. Just the hey nonny-nonny nonsense the doctor ordered’ ★★★★ The Telegraph
‘A terrific Shakespeare spoof’ ★★★★ The Arts Desk
An amazing time both topical and classic great fun Thank you Mr Whiskers it takes skill to steal a show from these performers
An amazing time both topical and classic great fun Thank you Mr Whiskers it takes skill to steal a show from these performers
Loved the TV series but the stage show went to another level. All actors were great. Unique script with lots of laughs. Gielgud Theatre as always as excellent.
We had a wonderful afternoon at the show. So cleverly written and delivered by the actors. Lots of laughter throughout. Not you like the TV series you will love this show.
Laugh. I laughed so hard I hurt myself. Brilliant script fantastic acting wonderful atmosphere I do not believe i could have enjoyed a trip to shaftesbury Avenue more than i did.
One of the best shows I've ever seen. Really clever and funny, yet poignant and thought provoking. Shakespeare showed and explored societal issues that are timeless and still relevant, captured beautifully in Upstart Crow. It was feel good with all the dancing at the end and also moving and deep with the Othelo scene and King Lear prose. Absolutely 5 star.
I'm a massive fan of the TV series & was really looking forward to seeing the stage play. It did not disappoint. The cast were brilliant & I especially loved the exaggerated brummy accents of Suzanne & Judith. Some of the lines are taken from various episodes but that just makes it feel warm & familiar. Go & see it if you get the chance; there are real belly laughs to be had.
What a splendid evening! Hugely enjoyable blend of schoolboy jokes and topical banter. Our jaws ached from laughing. My husband was so smitten he’s planning on buying his own pair of puffling pants! We thought the cast was superb and Will S a wafflesome wonder.
Lively, funny and totally entertaining. Think Shakespeare might come away with quite a few plots for his next plays! It’s only with hindsight that we see what was staring him in the face all along. Amazing cast as always.
If you've seen the TV series, you know the level of ingenuity and human engagement to expect. The surprise is that the (excellent) cast can sustain this over an entire evening, and do so with what appears to be spontaneity as well as precision timing. A superb evening of fun.
Absolutely superb from start to finish. Brilliantly conceived and written and wonderfully acted.
Sheer joy from start to finish. Witty, silly, pacey, topical, farcical...Ben Elton was on top form when he wrote this rib-tickler, and the cast were at the top of their game in every aspect of comic delivery last night. We loved it. And judging by the volume of laughter, the whole audience was similarly appreciative. Those puffling pants were something else!!
It is funny, clever and silly. All the cast are excellent and we really enjoyed it.
A very, very funny show with some thought provoking scenes. For people who enjoyed the TV series this is a must see theatrical event! Well Done Ben Elton and Well Done the cast!
I loved every aspect of this constantly entertaining, fast moving, superbly clever show. I felt Ben Elton to be in his absolute element here providing an ingenious script for the actors to relish. Weaving 12th Night and Lear so expertly to create a typically Shakespearean credibly incredible story with so much humour and sense of bawdiness, fantastic wordplay and completely delighting performances. We have Shakespeare, Kate , Bottom and Burbridge from the TV show and the fabulous Mark Heap appearing here as the Doctor - another completely delicious character for the audience to adore . If you liked the tele version you’ll absolutely devour this theatrical version but there’s no need to have seen it to fully grasp what’s going on and who’s who. I think maybe it’s a big help though to have some admiration and enjoyment for Shakespeare and all he brought to the world or it may not be the show for you. It was for me. I was delighted, entertained and joyous as I left
Brilliant entertainment. All eight of us enjoyed a really good evening.
Apart from the laughter, which in itself is therapeutic, the skilful writing and playing of this clever piece is a joy. A marvel of weaving the travails of modern and 1605 life with the knowledge we have of Shakespeare, and a glimpse into the likely frustrations of his everyday life is a wonderful way to spend a couple of hours. I thoroughly recommend everything about it.
What a treat. Very funny Shakespearean comedy. Superb cast. Ben Elton a master with words. Thoroughly enjoyed....5 stars
Thoroughly enjoyed the linguistic acrobatic performances from all the actors of which Shakespeare would have been proud. David Mitchell will be forever in my memory as the 21st vision of Shakespeare as created by Ben Elton. Everyone should see this show to get a complete understanding of what true creativity is.
Absolutely brilliant. Really enjoyed every minute
What a beautiful theatre. Staff were all helpful and friendly and the play was fantastic. Every bit as funny as the TV series and watching it live was a great experience. GO SEE THIS PLAY.
Just plain bloody brilliant
Great acting Fast paced and terrific fun Thoroughly recommend
What a perfectly clever, funny performance from the entire cast. Would love to go and see it again.
Delightful. Shakespearean twaddlisciousness, naughtiness and social comment, measure for measure in farcical folly.
I have never laughed so much at the theatre. Extremely funny. Contempory jokes mixed with mentions of Shakespearen plays. Superb performances from all especially the bear
All sorts of humour - up to date as well as Shakespearean. Very funny and well worth the visit especially if you have an interest in Shakespeare ! Contemporary yet Tudor! See it slay it slaughtered!!
THE UPSTART CROW GIELGUD THEATRE 17.2. 20 The TV series was, I think, called Upstart Crow. It’s intriguing, when everything nowadays is about dropping the definite article, that Ben Elton has decided to add one? I think he’s signalling to us that this normal length play in The Gielgud isn’t just a paste-up of scenes from the TV shows. I think they were half hours? So this is a new piece of work from someone who’s insanely prolific. And yet...Ben Elton is a highly aware fellow who knows that this play can get a lot of a following wind from the recognition of familiar TV characters. So ... here is the slightly irritable, slightly self-important Will (he knows himself to be ‘The World’s Greatest Dramatist’ after all) yet he’s also a socially anxious non-Oxbridge former actor. He’s played by David Mitchell; there’s the landlady’s daughter Kate who you’ll be pleased to know is still played by Gemma Whelan and then Will’s put-upon illiterate servant Bottom still played by Rob Rouse. I sometime wonder if it was OK for Ben Elton to make this the only ‘Northern’ character in the show? Is he saying that this is where solid old-school common sense resides? Or is he saying something else? (I just throw that out to you...) The night I was there, when each of these characters came on they got loud cheers and a round from the eager audience. I would estimate that most of the scenes in this play were set in the ‘London lodgings’ location that’s familiar from the TV series. And it was much of the same familiar interplay between these three essential characters (two of whom are of course complete inventions by Ben Elton...) The scenes in the play possibly went on a bit longer than they would have done in the TV show, but they used all the familiar gags, for example as when Bottom and Kate rubbish his recent work – All’s Well That Ends Well (‘It didn’t end well’); Measure for Measure (‘Non-consensual sex is a definite no-no’) 'And - by the way - why can’t I act in one of your plays?' ‘Kate, women can’t act. And it’s against the law.’ It seems that Will ( whom they respectively refer to as ‘Master’ with a short ‘a’ and ‘Mr Shakespeare’) really must write something – and soon - to interest the new King James (‘We are The King’s Men after all...’) It seems that this new man, though Scottish (insert borderline offensive Scottish joke here) and although he has a wife, is rumoured to be a bit of a ‘hugger-tugger’. So he needs to see something new and racy. All this is familiar stuff and very much enjoyed by the audience (and by me) I decided to go to this show on a whim yesterday and realised when I got there that it was the press night. The circle bar at The Gielgud (which is on a ring balcony looking down onto the entrance foyer) had been partially roped off by Delfont Mackintosh Theatres in order to refresh the hacks. I would estimate 20-30 were there. There were also ‘guests’. I sat behind Alan Davies who plays the ignorant one in QI (if you’ve ever seen it?) He has his long luxuriant hair, but it’s going pepper pot-ish on top. Two along from him in front of me was Twiggy and her husband! (I’m only mentioning the very biggest stars you understand...) The Gielgud (formerly Globe) is a fine Edwardian theatre in Shaftesbury Avenue (opened 1906) designed by Sprague. As newly spruced-up by Cameron Mackintosh, it’s got a beautiful horseshoe shaped auditorium with a dress circle and upper circle. The stage area as designed by Alice Power is shown at full width with a wooden planked floor running up the medium steep rake. The back wall is panelled in – I suppose – a ‘Jacobean’ style in large rectangular plain panels. This dark wood look is replicated on the proscenium arch and also in three reducing arches within the stage space which spring off panelled ‘tabs’ (I think that’s what they’re called) This recession of the playing space ends at the matching Jacobean back wall. The tab arches enable the dropping in of scenery for different scenes and the effect is simple and elegant. It has a perspective effect that one associates with Renaissance Italian theatres. The stage area is open when the public are coming in and the start of the show is signalled by the lights dimming, some lightning flashes on the stage lighting and some thunder on the sound system. We then get the charming effect of a blue-green cloth rippling on the floor, stretched between the most upstage of the tabs. A galleon in white cutout silhouette buckets across the back wall in the waves and then capsizes. A shipwrecked woman is seen bobbing briefly above the waves, after which she rolls from under the rippling cloth and down the rake to the front of the stage. She is revealed as Desiree (Rachel Summers) a black woman shipwrecked on this strange shore. She has heard that this is a barbarous country in which women are classed as second class citizens and as chattels (as opposed to the situation in her native Africa) So she decides to disguise herself as a boy and go to London. London is represented by a period-ish painted front cloth showing timbered houses. It is a ‘front cloth’ is a literal way in that it’s quite flappy and has a crude slit in it which passes for the entrance door to Will’s lodging in the foreground. The cloth then rises to reveal the upper room set, with its timbering and diamond paned windows and a central table representing Will’s main London lodging space. I’ve already mentioned that it’s here that most of the scenes take place. In terms of the ‘London’-‘Stratford’ interplay that we see in the TV series, ‘Stratford’ is more shadowy now. There’s a rather hasty ‘Stratford’ scene between Helen Monks who’s used to play the stroppy, brummy-speaking, teenage Susanna in the TV series and her sister Judith (Danielle Phillips) I’m not even sure that Judith was a speaking part in the TV series and she would have been shown as a much younger girl. However Danielle Phillips is also less assuredly brummy than her sister (she’s probably picked up her accent from Helen Monks?) Now they are grown-up daughters. Of course their brother Hamnet is now dead (this is mentioned later in a funny scene dealing with Will’s ‘grief issues’) The hasty two-handed Stratford scene is mainly to say that the sisters have been invited down to London and ‘Mum’s ‘not coming’. So that’s Lisa Tarbuck written out! (Or maybe she didn’t want to be in it?) Of others ‘written out’ the effete ‘female’ actor Condell isn’t included, so we now only have Burbage representing the ‘actor-r-r-r-r’ community. But it’s still Steve Spiers from the TV series and he does a lot of scenery-chewing which pleases everybody very much. But Burbage now has to come to the lodgings on his own in order to make known his views on Will’s plays. The other and most significant change involves the the much-loved Mark Heap who played the sneering, scheming, totally over-the-top villain Greene in the TV series (I think it was Greene who called Shakespeare an ‘Upstart Crow’) Greene has now been re-engineered into a scheming, sneering puritan Dr John Hall. He wears a suitable puritan black outfit and black hat. When he first arrives (sneeringly) at the lodging to treat Will’s writer’s block (he’s his doctor by the way) Hall is offered cake by Bottom. He takes a piece gingerly and tastes it (‘Very good.’) and then has to slap his own face for giving in to temptation. He is then also taken suddenly – and guiltily – with the attractions of Kate. There has to be more self-beating as he makes his hasty exit. Later there's a grotesque version of the guying of Malvolio where Dr John Hall appears in larger and larger breeches ('puffling pants') and some bigger and bigger cod pieces – hopefully to attract Kate. The obscene cod pieces have some yellow cross-gartering. The appearance of Arragon (Jason Callender) a handsome black guy looking for his twin sister Desiree completes the character list. Arragon and Desiree are considered to resemble each other exactly (but of course they don’t) They’re in search of each other, so it’s very similar to many productions of Twelfth Night and other Bard plays that we’ve seen over the years. By starting his play with the dramatic arrival of a black character Ben Elton is both acknowledging that element about current English theatre that we’ve often discussed and also giving himself license to play with the idea. As someone as well-versed in comedy as he is, this consists in sailing as close to the the wind as he possibly can. When at the end - to service the familiar requirement in Shakespeare to ‘tie things up’ - the horrid Dr John Hall proposes marriage to Will’s daughter Susanna she says, ‘But are you really a doctor?’ He says, ‘Well I identify as one.’ Shrieks of joy from the audience in invoking the current ‘trans’ debate. It’s obvious that Ben Elton is very preoccupied with ‘political correctness’ but probably falls short of thinking that it’s ‘gone mad.’ He wants to have fun with it, which he very ingeniously does. In order to mark his return to form, the two ideas Will has for new big dramas are: King Leir, which he’s seen in the lodgings privy, where Kate has left it (he gets most of his best ideas from looking at what she’s been reading) and then an inter-racial love story suggested to him by the arrival of the captivating Desiree at his lodgings asking for protection. Desiree (in boy’s clothing) is instantly fancied by the susceptible, hormonal Kate. This combustible material later materialises into Will’s Othello, the spicy, edgy play which will be presented to the new King James. We are told that this performance is a triumph and we hear some recorded applause signalling it. Then the author comes out on stage, elbowing the actors out of the way and gathering up the bouquets himself (is this the actor of old?) All we see of Othello is the death scene played as a snippet between Arragon and Kate as Othello and Desdemona. This takes place on an ingeniously raked-up Jacobean bed near the front of the stage. Quite how this outcome happens – that is that two non-actors play these parts in front of the King James - is really too complicated to explain. However, this does encapsulate something about how Ben Elton puts together these Shakespeare comedies. He really does love Shakespeare and is hungry to include ‘the best bits’ in his own plays. Hence he here slips in the ‘It is the cause’ speech spoken by Arragon in the run-up to the staging of the Othello performance. As for King Leir which he decides to re-brand as King Lear (no-one will notice) it has obviously occurred to Ben Elton that he would love to hear the three daughters’ ‘How much do you love me?’ scene. And then also the ‘Hurricanoes’ speech on the blasted heath...? And while we’re about it, what about the death of Ophelia? But Ben Elton would have asked himself, could these scenes be made funny? Could they be given to his star David Mitchell? If so, could he manage the tragic rhetorical delivery? Judging that the answers to these questions probably ended up as ‘Yes’, the plot that he devises in order to have these scenes played by Will is that: - Will decides to divide his assets between the Stratford daughters in order to buy himself some mental space - by living for a while in Stratford. This is in order to write his important new plays. Hence the ‘How much do you love me’ scene when dividing his assets (though it’s pointed out in Ben Elton's play that all his property was in Stratford anyway) But when Will actually does go back to Stratford, it’s all a fiasco. Apart from not being able to get a proper breakfast it’s all too limiting and infuriating. - In case you’re wondering who the third ‘daughter’ is in this Lear scenario, the part is given to Kate. So after the ‘Nothing will come of nothing’ moment, the brummy daughters who have so excessively adored their father now speculate darkly on what the real relationship is between their dad and the landlady’s daughter? Ben Elton says that when he wrote the pilot script for Upstart Crow – as an offer from BBC Comedy for programmes which would suit the 400th anniversary – he rather sweetly put as a character note for the person playing Will ‘A younger David Mitchell’. To decide on the actual David Mitchell necessitated some intricate footwork from Ben Elton in which he reasoned that life was so hard in 1600s London that characters might look old before their time? (You get the idea) I don’t know how much direction this show actually needs. It’s so highly worked-out already in the writing. But it’s directed by Sean Foley and already looks like a well-oiled laugh machine. All the characters are visibly miked up, though in Row J stalls I could still hear the natural voices reasonably well. However now they were slightly ‘filled out’. It seemed to me that David Mitchell was already sounding a bit raspy. Six nights a week and two matinees are going to be a strenuous job for him and for them all, poor dears. There are some very good ‘actors’ jokes in the play on exactly these sorts of topics. I love actors jokes, but I also love actors.
If you have seen the BBC2 series then you just must see the live play. It was great to see all the original cast from tv on stage playing the characters they play so well. This is some of the best writing that Ben Elton has done in a long while......may the stage show continue with a longer run to give us time to see it again!
Bought for my husband’s Christmas present this was a joy from beginning to end. Most of us in the family are fans of the TV series and have been bereft since it’s left our screens. It’s the one show that manages to get my husband falling off his chair and rolling in the aisles. Loved all the current jokes and all the great Shakespearean references ... we were on the edge of our seats waiting for the next one and we’re thrilled when the bear 🐻 fulfilled our final guess!
We thoroughly enjoyed the show which moved very quickly from bawdy visual gags to a more serious, rapid fire mix of comments on the issues of race and the role of women in Shakespeare's day blended with similar contemporary problems. You had to pay close attention to the flow of the longer speeches to catch the punch lines that came at the end. In that way more than two hours would have been exhausting for both cast and audience. Throughout you could hear Eltons voice poking fun at the absurdity of women not being able to tread the boards in Shakespeares day and conversely some of the political correct terminology of the present day. It was reminiscent for me of his stand up rants in the 90s. All the cast performed impeccably and there were no serious discernible glitches. You didnt need to be hugely conversant with Shakespeares plays to grasp the humour. If it went on tour I'd definitely go and see it again. Superb, havent laughed so much in a long while.
I took my sons (aged 13 & 15) to get them away from their phones. Excellent entertainment, they laughed all the way through. We are fans of the tv series and this did not disappoint.
Laugh out loud silliness from start to finish- such an enjoyable evening of fun and hilarity. Thoroughly recommended for those who enjoy clever fun writing and great acting.
Just brilliant from start to finish. Take the mick out of current ‘must nots’ and incorporate three or four actual Shakespeare plays into the script. Great performances by the whole cast do full justice to Ben Elton’s slick script. Get a ticket quickly as this is a limited run. Best comedy for years.
A fabulous mix of modern thought-provoking satire in a Stuart wrapper. The first-class cast did not fail to deliver: great belly laughs all round. My teenage son loved it, so here’s hoping it will help at GCSE time.
If you liked the TV series, you will love this. It has cleverly moved forward to the reign of James I and the era of Shakespeare's later plays, thereby avoiding any repetition from the TV series. The references and allusions to S's plays come thick and fast as do the tongue in cheek references to today. The acting is brilliant and it is a delight from beginning to end. Do go and see it.
This stand-alone story is excellent, fans of the TV show will enjoy the familiarity of the setting and characters but newcomers will enjoy it equally. David Mitchell and Gemma Whelan are, as usual, very funny and givee excellent performances. Special mention to Mark Heap as the doctor - hilarious.
From start to finish, this play entertains on every level. Having enjoyed the television series, I was hoping that the standard would be maintained. I think it exceeded it. Every performance was a masterclass in comic timing and ensemble working. This is a must see.
Ben Elton has done it again! Blending past history with today's issues. The cast were simply amazing with the brilliant 'DANCING BEAR' thrown in for good measure. What a star! Having come down from York to see this excellent comedy experience I believe it should be shared with the country and go on a National Tour. LOVE LOVE LOVED IT!!!
A rollicking good show which is every bit as good as the TV show - and then some!
Very good but not as good as TV show. Shame Mark Heap didn’t play his usual character. Gemma, the actress who plays Kate was excellent, as ever. Finished nice and early for us oldies.
Having loved the TV series - we were so looking forward to this - and were not disappointed. Clever witty script plus great visual humour. All the cast were excellent. Standing ovation at the end and a very lively responsive audience throughout.
Had a fabulous time, very clever and funny script and an amazing cast.
Excellent show, very funny
Funny,lots of Shakespeare references ,very enthusiastic cast ,loved seeing the cast off TV on stage. David Mitchell is so good ,and all of the cast were excellent. A real feel good funny happy evening.
A terrific recreation of the TV series but on stage, ingenious, funny, lovely to look at, wonderful acting, what's not to like. Best theatre outing for months.
Fabulously funny and incredibly clever. Loved the bear!!
From beginning to the end absulutely marvellous David Mitchell and the whole cast were fantastic, brilliant throughout the whole show. Really enjoyed Mr Whiskers performance
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7th Feb - 5th April 2020
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