Upstart Crow in the West End – What We Know so Far

Upstart Crow is coming to the West End (Tickets here: The show will run from February 7th at the Gielgud Theatre until the end of April. But, what do we know about the story so far and who’s on board?

Here’s the plot synopsis from the play’s official website:

‘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?

Other plot line tidbits have appeared in the press including this:

“Will desperately needs to come up with a brilliant new plot but he is finding it impossible to focus on finding one. He’s too distracted by family troubles. He’s considering dividing all his lands and property between his jealous, squabbling daughters and, to add to the confusion, two shipwrecked, Moorish, cross-dressing, identical twins have just arrived, separately and unaware of each other, at his door. How the futtock can a Bard be expected to find a plot for a play with all that is going on in the house?

“To make matters worse Will’s friend and housekeeper Kate, horrified at the exploitation of showbiz animals for entertainment, has recently ‘liberated’ the Globe Theatre’s prize dancing bear. Kate intends to keep the poor distressed animal in the scullery until she can reintroduce her into the wild, but Mrs Whiskers (who was born to dance) has other plans. You can take the dancing bear out of the theatre, but you can’t take the theatre out of the dancing bear.”

It looks as if someone’s going to exit pursued by a bear…

The full cast has now been confirmed


Who will play King James I ?

We don’t know if King James I will be in the play. However, last year, in an interview, David speculated that the show would hopefully continue into King James I reign, and suggested Micheal Palin as potential casting. Another name that’s being thrown around on twitter is a familiar face to the world of Upstart Crow, Kenneth Branagh. But this is pure speculation.

Will a recording of the play be released?

Although it is unusual for theatrical plays to be recorded and then released on DVD it isn’t uncommon for Shakespearean or comedy live shows. As this play is also a continuation of the Upstart Crow story we can’t rule out a script book release either (we’re talking Harry Potter and the Cursed Child style) and there’s also a possibility that this play will be made into a special or become part of series 4, although nothing has been confirmed regarding Upstart Crow’s return to television.

What else do we know?

Producers say the show will see “Mitchell once more don the bald wig and bardish coddling pouch in his iconic characterisation of Will Shakespeare.” and David himself has 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. Theater-goers can look forward to a comedy steeped in authentic Shakespearean ambiance in every way apart from the smell.”

Ben Elton, while talking about the new stage play on Good Morning Britain revealed:

‘David Mitchell starring in a stage version, as it should be, coming to its natural home because it’s obviously a sitcom about Shakespeare and it’s a Shakespearean play about two identical twins, it’s got all sorts of new stuff in it.’

So from this we can assume that The Comedy of Errors is also being worked into the plot.

The show has a 100 minute long run time and is directed by Olivier award-winner Sean Foley (The LadykillersJeeves & Wooster and The Miser).

As always we’ll keep you updated when any further information comes available and thanks to The British Comedy Guide for most of the information in this article :


The Upstart Crow Fact Check – Episode 4: Love Is Not Love

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A very affectionate look at the Upstart Crow episodes by @ChasquiPenguin.

Each episode has a theme, usually revolving around one of Will’s plays, and in this series of articles our aim is to give a little more background to those and the Upstart Crow storyline surrounding it, together with the facts, deliberate anachronisms, and the characters involved.

Series 1

Episode 4 – Love is Not Love


The title of this episode is from Sonnet 116, the first lines of which are:

Let me not to the marriage of true minds

Admit impediments. Love is not love

Which alters when it alteration finds,

Or bends with the remover to remove:


This episode’s story revolves around Shakespeare’s sonnets and the two subjects to whom they were dedicated: The Fair Youth and The Dark Lady. As their actual identities are not known, there are a number of candidates but Lord Southampton and Emilia Lanier are considered to be strong possibilities. However, it is fairly certain that none was written to his wife Anne.


Shakespeare wrote 126 sonnets to The Fair Youth and 28 to The Dark Lady but none has a title. For their publication in 1609 they were merely numbered, probably randomly, so there is no hint as to the chronology of their writing. However, academics believe Shakespeare wrote and revised them in the 1590s and the early 1600s. The first publication contains all 154 sonnets, followed by a longer poem entitled The Lover’s Complaint. There are 13 extant copies of the original edition and, interestingly, actor Edward Alleyn (who played lead roles in Marlowe’s plays among others) bought a copy for a shilling in June 1609.


The published book of sonnets was dedicated to “Mr. W. H.”. As these are the initials of Henry Wriothesley (Lord Southampton) who was a patron of writers, especially of Shakespeare, it is speculated that he was The Fair Youth, but not all scholars agree. There are various theories surrounding Shakespeare’s writing of these 126 sonnets, including the views that they were romantic, platonic, commissioned (rather than reflecting any personal interest by Shakespeare) and written in memory of his son Hamnet who died aged 11 in 1596.


There seem to be fewer theories regarding the identity of The Dark Lady but there is a belief that Shakespeare had an affair with Emilia Lanier (née Bassano), though there is no evidence. Equally, he is likely to have been acquainted with Lucy, also known as Black Luce, an African woman who worked in the taverns of South London and appears in many episodes of Upstart Crow.



The discussion which Will had with Kate and Bottom about the rhyming of love and prove is unlikely to have taken place in the 16th century as these words were almost certainly pronounced the same way then. However, here in the 21st century, ‘the jury is still out’ on the sound. There is a tendency to favour loove over pruv, but no certainty as no one today has ever heard Tudor English spoken. However, Will is not the only poet to have rhymed these two. Probably in the mid 1580s, before Shakespeare wrote his sonnets, Christopher Marlowe used the same rhyme with the opening lines of his poem The Passionate Shepherd to His Love:

Come live with me and be my love,

And we will all the pleasures prove,


As with other roles the Upstart Crow Robert Greene holds, he was never Print Master, a role which almost certainly did not exist in the Elizabethan era, and would not have had the power to arrest Will. The trial Will underwent in this episode is presumably an invention by Ben, giving the storyline greater depth. Its conclusion that the sonnets are too boring and obscure to read, and thus to influence anyone, gives a hilarious twist. Whether Edward Alleyn ever nodded off while reading them is, unfortunately, not recorded; therefore we can neither prove nor disprove the tedium theory or even speculate on how it would have stood up in court in Shakespeare’s day.


Towards the start of the trial we learn that Bottom’s first name is Ned (the popular Tudor short form for Edward/Edwin). Although he is rarely addressed by his first name in Upstart Crow, it is obviously inspired by Shakespeare’s character Nick Bottom in A Midsummer’s Night Dream.


As we see in Upstart Crow, the sonnets were mostly 14 lines long and written in iambic pentameter. However, there is no record of the one-and-a-half-line sonnet Will wrote for Anne – this must have been the equivalent of a private love letter, not available for publication!


Cover of the first edition of Shakespeare’s Sonnets, published in 1609



For more information on Lord Southampton and Emilia Lanier, in my Facts List on this website, please click on


In Episode 5 we discover Will’s inspirations for ‘the Scottish play’ Macbeth!


Twitter: @ChasquiPenguin