Comedy, love and a bit with a dog. Thats what they want, declares Thomas Henslowe, the debt-ridden theatre manager in Shakespeare in Love. The Tom Stoppard-scripted movie made a blissfully talented transfer to theatre (the natural home of the material) half a decade ago. Now just as Stoppard returns to the West End with his masterpiece Leopoldstadt, without larky Shakespearean scaffolding up pops The Upstart Crow. Ben Eltons critically acclaimed Bard-centred sitcom has forsaken the relative safety of the small screen in order to expose itself to the slings and arrows of the outrageous fortune that is live performance.
The canine in Shakespeare in Love was an adorable Labradoodle called Spot. The Upstart Crow may draw on dog front. But it includes a bear, who comes in handy for gags about the difficulty of realising some of Shakespeares stage directions, supremely Exit, pursued by a bear in The Winters Tale. This creature has been rescued from the cruelties of a Bear Garden by the Bards female sidekick (played with heavenly feel for the shows humour by Gemma Whelan). An anachronistically advanced interest in our current preoccupations animal rights, diversity, representation is the running gag in a show that is notionally set in a period where it was illegal for a woman to play anything on a stage. And then, of course, there are immemorial, time-honoured jokes about show business.
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