Tag Archives: Gemma Whelan

The Upstart Crow


Gielgud Theatre

The Upstart Crow

The Upstart Crow

Gielgud Theatre

Reviewed – 18th February 2020



“What comes over as too silly, too exaggerated for me on the small screen, becomes uproarious comedy gold on stage”


This gloriously silly romp is clever, joyful and fabulously funny. There are enough Shakespearean references to please those who know their Bard, and mentions of so many of his plays I thought we were going for the full First Folio. But it’s all sewn together so finely that it never jars. It’s over the top and, at times, quite mad.

There were clearly a lot of fans of the TV series in the audience, and I have to confess that I don’t really like it on television. What comes over as too silly, too exaggerated for me on the small screen, becomes uproarious comedy gold on stage. The writing is very clever, and the twenty first century allusions to everything from sexism, racism and homophobia to leaves on the line never jars. Ben Elton has a genius for this, and he’s had a lot of fun with the script. “See it, Slay it, Slaughtered.” You’ll have to see it to find out where that came from!

David Mitchell’s Shakespeare is in need of inspiration. A new play has to be written for the Globe and he has writer’s block. His young friend Kate, a delightful Gemma Whelan, who desperately wants to act, but can’t because it’s 1605, reads a book on the loo. Books that Shakespeare steals his plots from. She tries to help him with ideas and, with the arrival of an assortment of characters including African princes, identical twins, a dancing bear, and a Malvolioesque Doctor Hall, the hapless playwright eventually comes up with a brilliant new play, and the best exit line ever. Mark Heap, as Doctor Hall brings true comedy magic with his ever larger pants and alarmingly cross-gartered cod-piece and Steve Speirs overacts with glee as Burbage. Helen Monks and Danielle Phillips are a delightful double act as Shakespeare’s daughters Susanna and Judith, and Rob Rouse’s servant, Bottom looks like he’s seen it all before, and probably has. The ‘African Princes,’ and supposedly identical, twins Desiree and Aragon, have arrived in the madness that is this particular form of Shakespeare’s London after a shipwreck, and Rachel Summers and Jason Callender enter into the cross dressing chaos with gusto. Reice Weathers deserves special mention for his portrayal of Mr Whiskers the Dancing Bear, and for spending the whole evening under stage lighting in a bear suit. The cast flip from contemporary language to Shakespearean verse with ease and energy, clearly enjoying the challenge. Director Sean Foley, has a real eye for comedy, wringing every last juicy bit of silliness from Elton’s script and Alice Power’s gorgeous set and costume design give us a London and Stratford recognisable from many a Shakespeare play.

The old ‘identical twins separated by disaster who don’t recognise each other because one is dressed as a girl’ thing is further complicated by a ‘black woman pretending to be a white man pretending to be a black man so she can play Othello’ thing, in a dizzying identity confusion. People fall in love with the wrong people, hide behind tiny trees and speak in loud asides that the others on stage can’t hear. It’s all as Shakespearean as can be. And it’s all rather wonderful.


Reviewed by Katre

Photography by Johan Persson


The Upstart Crow

Gielgud Theatre until 25th April


Last ten shows reviewed by Katre:
Martha, Josie And The Chinese Elvis | ★★★★★ | Park Theatre | December 2019
The Snow Queen | ★★★★ | Park Theatre | December 2019
Catch Of The Day | ★★★★ | The Vaults | January 2020
Coming Clean | ★★★★ | Trafalgar Studios | January 2020
Little Boxes | ★★★★★ | The Vaults | January 2020
Peeping Tom: Child (Kind) | ★★★ | Barbican | January 2020
The Legend Of The Holy Drinker | ★★½ | The Vaults | January 2020
In My Lungs The Ocean Swells | ★★★★ | The Vaults | February 2020
Time And Tide | ★★★ | Park Theatre | February 2020
Gypsy Flame | ★★★★★ | Network Theatre | February 2020


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Queers thespyinthestalls The Old VicQueers thespyinthestalls The Old Vic

The Old Vic today announces casting for Queers, a series of eight monologues curated by Mark Gatiss. Staged on 28 and 31 July at The Old Vic, they mark 50 years since the Sexual Offences Act of 1967 began the decriminalisation process for homosexuality between men. Queers celebrates some of the most poignant, funny, tragic and riotous moments of British gay male history over the last century.

Mark Bonnar, Sara Crowe, Jack Derges, Ian Gelder, Kadiff Kirwan, Russell Tovey, Gemma Whelan and Fionn Whitehead will perform monologues written by Matthew Baldwin, Jon Bradfield, Jackie Clune, Michael Dennis, Brian Fillis, Mark Gatiss, Keith Jarrett and Gareth McLean. The monologues will be directed by Mark Gatiss and
by Old Vic Associate Director Max Webster and Baylis Director Joe Murphy.

Queers is produced in partnership with BBC Studios, Pacific Quay Productions. The monologues were filmed earlier in the year, directed by Mark Gatiss and featuring many of the cast who will be appearing on stage at The Old Vic. These films will be screened on BBC Four this summer.

Queers is part of The Old Vic’s One Voice series, funded by the TS Eliot Estate, which celebrates the rawest of theatre forms – a single voice on a stage without scenery and with nothing to rely on but words. 


The full line up is as follows:

Fri 28 Jul

The Man on the Platform by Mark Gatiss, performed by Jack Derges
The Perfect Gentleman by Jackie Clune, performed by Gemma Whelan
I Miss the War by Matthew Baldwin, performed by Ian Gelder
Something Borrowed by Gareth McLean, performed by Mark Bonnar

Mon 31 Jul

Missing Alice by Jon Bradfield, performed by Sara Crowe
Safest Spot in Town by Keith Jarrett, performed by Kadiff Kirwan
A Grand Day Out by Michael Dennis, performed by Fionn Whitehead
More Anger by Brian Fillis, performed by Russell Tovey


The Old Vic thespyinthestalls


Box Office 0844 871 7628 | oldvictheatre.com