THE UPSTART CROW at London’s Gielgud Theatre is ‘a rollicking ride’ ★★★★

William Shakespeare may be one of the best playwrights ever to have lived, but he is also a fantastic character. We know so much – and yet so little – about him, that there is plenty of room for interpretation. We’ve seen him immortalised on stage in Shakespeare in Love, & Juliet and now The Upstart Crow.

Interestingly, each of these productions has interwoven elements of Shakespeare’s plays into a story about his life, providing us with the possibility that his great works were based on everyday occurrences. And in some cases, related to some of our favourite pop songs…

Ben Elton and David Mitchell are perhaps up there with Shakespeare as National Treasures, so a combination of all three sounds like a match made in Heaven. And to a certain extent it is everything one could hope for. It’s clever, funny and fast-paced. There are some beautifully observed hilarious moments that receive bigger laughs than author and actor could perhaps have expected (one word: cushion).

But at the same time, it tries too hard to be ironic about today’s ‘wokeness’. While it’s worthy of a titter at the beginning, the joke wears thin quite quickly and it’s never clear if they’re poking fun at & Juliet itself or just the youth of today.

That said the overall effect is entertaining and almost educational. It mocks and praises Shakespeare in equal measure, as characters hide behind tiny trees and masks, ensuring plenty of mistaken identity, unrequited love and stage violence.

The entire cast are brilliant. Mitchell is fantastic as Shakespeare, although he is playing himself – but isn’t that what we came to see? Reice Weathers steals the show as Mr Whiskers, providing the panto-esque aaahs and mirth… and congratulations to the wardrobe team – Mark Heap’s trousers are absolutely incredible.

There are a few fluffed lines and cringeworthy moments, but overall, it’s a rollicking ride that both fans of the TV show and complete newbies will enjoy.

Reviewed by Michaela Clement-Hayes
Photo: Johan Persson