Liverpool Sound and Vision Rating * * * *
Cast: David Mitchell, Liza Tarbuck, Emma Thompson, Gemma Whelen, Paula Wilcox, Harry Enfield, Rosanna Beacock, Dominic Coleman, Tim Downie, Mark Heap, Spencer Jones, Helen Monks, Rob Rouse, Steve Speirs, Joe Willis.
“Be not afraid of greatness”, words to live by and words in which there stands the golden possibility that Ben Elton’s Upstart Crow will gather the same attention bestowed upon the realm of Blackadder, for in the wit and humour of the show stands that greatness, a passion for the bard that never seems to fall out of favour and why should it, for in the greatest of them all lives much to pluck a juicy Christmas tender joint from.
A Christmas Crow takes the life of William Shakespeare and sets it against the tidings of the season, the turning of his fortunes in the court of the Queen and the green eyed monster of jealousy from both those who love him and those who wish to see him destroyed.
Eighth Night might not have the same ring to the ears as Twelfth Night but none the less the play is written and the players cast, confusion on stage as the actors get their head around the abundant use of gender role reversing again, a worrying sign according to Shakespeare’s family, and confusion within the home as a reflective Anne Hathaway mused over why he would love her, all is set to the pulse of misrule and in that Ben Elton never fails to shine.
Ben Elton’s finest work for television and indeed in his books is when the misrule is applied, when the turning of world is completely off its natural kilter is to be employed with tremendous wit and the accompanying fart gag, for in misrule we see ourselves as we perhaps truly are. The human spirit which tries to be so pious and understanding, reduced to a cackle of screaming banshee laughter when the ale and the song, the Prosecco and the karaoke starts playing our favourite track, we cannot but help fall about laughing as the head of steam takes us over and it is a joy to behold.
With the talented Emma Thompson adding a touch of the footlights humour and ties that bind in the comedy past as she plays a more thoughtful, reflective Queen Elizabeth and David Mitchell and Liza Tarbuck offering yet again a more human side to the legend of the writer’s life, “Be not afraid of greatness” is never a phrase you could hammer to the door of Ben Elton, it is to the audience that the direction must be shown, for in their appreciation they surely will find Upstart Crow to be one of the best British comedies around.
Ian D. Hall