For the last 2 weeks I have had the privilege of being in the audience for the recordings of the final 2 episodes of Upstart Crow! Here is my spoiler free recording report:
Episode 5. Things took a spooky turn when Shakespeare took his London peers, Christopher Marlowe, or as they all call him ‘Kit’, played by the amazing Tim Downie, Kate, played by the brilliant Gemma Whelan, and Will’s servant, Bottom, played by the equally fabulous Rob Rouse, back to his Stratford home to meet his family. After becoming stranded in the woods the gang meet three witches (one of whom is played by Mina Anwar, who would be familiar to most as Constable Habib from another classic Ben Elton sitcom, The Thin Blue Line,) who make an intriguing prophecy about Will. After that things take on a very, shall we say, Macbeth turn?
There was a great deal packed into this episode, not least to say David’s serious acting, I mean, we know David can do serious (You only need to watch the final episodes of ‘That Mitchell and Webb Look’ or ‘Ambassadors’ if you’re in any doubt), but it really came through here. Without wanting to give too much away, he bassically performs the classic ‘It this a dagger I see before me ?’ speech from Macbeth and he performed it, not just with great comedy (again, I won’t spoil the joke, but when you see it you’ll know what I mean ) but also with great intensity. I don’t believe any other comedy actor could have pulled this episode off. In that way it was a lot like the make-up episode in the last series of Peep Show (you all know the one) not in any other way but it was unique, to go all out Shakespeare on you I would say this – it was only befitting that of a David Mitchell performance! And it really made me think how much I would love to see David tackle some serious Shakespeare in the future.
Liza Tarbuck (playing Anne Hathaway), really shone in this episode as well. She’s a great casting choice and it’s clear that her and David share great chemistry. I heard it from someone else in the queue (3 hours standing in the freezing cold if you’re asking) that in the pilot Mel Giedroyc was playing Anne. No disrespect to Mel but I definitely think the right choice was made. Liza just works so well with David. There was a wonderful moment at a scene at a banqueting table: A large array of fancy food was brought out and all the actors at the table just sat down ready to take the scene. But then, David immediately started tucking into the food, then Liza followed suit. The cast and crew looked a little unsure of what to do. It was very funny, for a minute or two everyone just sort of let them eat before eventually ushering them to take the scene. David’s mic picked him up saying to Liza just before they called action ‘Did you have an artichoke? they’re delicious.’ the whole audience erupted into bemused laughter.
The great thing about Upstart Crow is that it has a massive cast, yet the show never seems to feel cluttered. In this episode we had (I think 10) people in staying in Will’s house yet all the characters roles are clear, and everybody will end up having their favourites. I simply adore Tim Downie‘s Kit, described on the cast sheet as ‘A dashing blade’, as I mentioned before, his performance plays tribute to Rik Mayall’s Flashheart, yet doesn’t make any attempt to copy it. He’s all swords and an eye for the ladies, yet he’ll always be looking out for his ‘best pal Will’. Another favourite of mine is Robert Greene played incredibly well by Mark Heap. He’s probably the greatest badie I have ever seen in sitcom, and I honestly never thought anyone would top Anthony Head’s Gently Benevolent for me, but Greene does. At the recording of the sixth episode people started to do panto style boos for Greene inbetween takes! It was very funny and in spite of myself I really wanted to join in. I love the way Greene turns to the camera and monologues to the audience, always referring to Shakespeare, not by name, but just merely by ‘the Crow’. His character is a work of genius.
So we move onto episode 6, and, as it was the finale of the series, Greene stepped up his plan to take out ‘The Crow’ once and for all. After Will’s father, John Shakespeare (Harry Enfield) was revealed to have squandered away his son’s life savings and his big chance to invest in a new theatre, Will resorts to borrowing money from the villainous Greene, on the condition that, if he cannot pay up in time Greene will take from him ‘A pound of flesh’. This episode plays heavily around the themes of ‘The Merchant of Venice’ and eventually builds to a superb cameo from a Blackadder character I will certainly not spoil.
This episode also focused heavily on the relationship between Will and Kate which is actually an interesting one and probably the most intriguing dynamic of the show. Kate was introduced to us (by Ben Elton who likes to talk us through all the parts of the show and characters, and does so quite a lot!) as the landlady’s daughter (the landlady of Will’s London office I assume) and in a popular sitcom trope this Landlady is mentioned but never seen. Regardless Kate spends all her time hanging around with Will, his servant, Bottom and Kit desperately trying to gain their approval and friendship. I assumed immediately as I saw the first episode (actually the 3rd in the correct order) her to be a kind of counter love interest for Will, and having since read a bit about the real Shakespeare’s personal life, or what little we know of it, it seems he did leave his wife and family for many years working in London, and this idea of him having another love in his work life there seems more than likely for the time. Despite this Ben Elton denounced the ideas the film ‘Shakespeare in Love’ portrayed and personally I haven’t actually seen the film so can’t really comment. Anyway, I do believe the pair share great chemistry (just as Liza and David do) and it’s made obvious the characters care for each other deeply but the whole thing has been rather subtly worked in. It will be very interesting to see how this will play out in future series, and yes, at the last recording future series were continuously mentioned. Ben kept stressing this was the end of ‘the first series’. There’s a bit of magic in the air about this show. If you ask me Upstart Crow is headed for big things.
Thanks for reading!