THEATRE REVIEW: Upstart Crow

Reviews, Theatre

Last Wednesday I saw Upstart Crow at the Gielgud theatre in London. It is an adaptation of the tv sitcom of the same name. Inspired by the critique by Robert Green in his pamphlet ‘Groatsworth of Wit’, The play as with the series was written by Ben Elton and so it very much had the same tone as the series if not a little more political and more energetic in the play version. The play is packed with references to William Shakespeare’s plays* however you don’t need to be a Shakespeare fanatic to enjoy the play. There are many Shakespeare ‘inside jokes’ so some knowledge might heighten your experience but mainly the comedy is aimed at ridiculing general views of Shakespeare and of the politics in Shakespeare’s time and of ours. So if you are a huge fan of Shakespeare and his plays I would urge you to check it out as it looks at some real events of his life and suggests ways in which these events may have inspired his plays.

Ben Elton also wrote the 2018 film All is True starring (Kenneth Branagh, Judi Dench and Ian Mckellan) which is based on the final years of Shakespeare life. The film has a much darker, sadder tone to the series and to this play which is much more lighthearted but this interrogation of Shakespeare’s life and the way his life events influenced him really seeps into the play in a way that I don’t think that the series does quite as often. Set after the death of Shakespeare’s only son Hamnet, the play still focuses a little on the impact this tragic life event had on him and his writing.

The play was performed by the original cast of the BBC television series featuring David Mitchell in the role of William Shakespeare who completely embodies the bard with his high forehead and indulging in all of the stereotypes and assumptions of the playwright. Gemma Whelan was also incredible in her role as Kate, bringing awareness to the harsh reality of the position that women had in the Elizabethan/ Jacobean era with comic flare. She acts as Shakespeare’s confidante and as the source of Shakespeare’s genius, almost adhering to the saying that ‘behind every great man is a great woman’ which adds to the plays political underbelly.

If you are a fan of the series and expect to see Ann Shakespeare though you may be disappointed as she doesn’t make an appearance as with the series – Elton has chosen to write her as avoiding Will Shakespeare because of the poems. Other than that though, the play really is mostly a longer (100 minutes) version of an episode in the series which means that Elton has been able to explore in more depth more of Shakespeare’s plays and the influences for it. The play is written so that audience members of any age should be able to enjoy it or at least find certain moments comical.

Directed by Sean Foley, the staging also sets out to ridicule the limitations of realism on stage choosing to use a similar set up to the set design of the series. But because there are no cuts or edits that can be made with a play Foley uses the staging to add an extra comic element almost similar, although much more subtle, to that of The Play that goes Wrong.


“Theatre goers can look forward to a comedy steeped in authentic shakespearean ambience in every way apart from the smell”

David Mitchell, UpstartCrowComedy.com

One question many people have asked me is if you can enjoy it without liking Shakespeare that much and I would say that as David Mitchell has said that it very Shakespearean and it is about his life and his work. However, many of the jokes come from general fairly well known assumptions about Shakespeare so I do think it would still be enjoyable if you are not Shakespeare’s number one fan.

Overall it was a really enjoyable night at the theatre, producing many genuine belly laughs from the audience. But it’s not only funny, Elton really pushes to expose some issues in our society and to make you think about representation in the entertainment industry by making us look at the past, the play makes us look at our present. The play is only on for a short run ending on the 25th of April 2020 at the Gielgud Theatre in the West End.

At the Gielgud Theatre

SPOILERS:

*Mainly Othello, Twelfth night and King Lear with a little bit of Hamlet and reference to the histories.

FILM REVIEW: ‘The True History of the Kelly Gang’

Film, Reviews

Last Friday, The True History of The Kelly Gang, a drama/crime film directed by Justin Kurzel (who also directed Macbeth (2015)) was released. The film is an adaptation of the book by Peter Cary, the plot is described as –


“Set against the badlands of colonial Australia where the English rule with a bloody fist and the Irish endure, Ned Kelly (George MacKay) discovers he comes from a line of Irish rebels called the Sons of Sieve, an uncompromising army of cross dressing bandits immortalized for terrorizing their oppressors back in Ireland. Nurtured by the notorious bushranger Harry Power (Russell Crowe) and fueled by the unfair arrest of his mother, Ned Kelly recruits a wild bunch of warriors to plot one of the most audacious attacks of anarchy and rebellion the country has ever seen.”


The film is loosely about true events although the film states in the first frame that nothing you are about to watch is true then continuing ironically into the next slide with the title stating that it is a ‘True History’. Although the film is about the Australian outlaw and bushranger, the film focuses more on the questions of who is telling the story, why they are telling it and questioning whether it is the truth after all whose to say what is the truth. It deals with misinformation and appropriation of history in the context of the time of one of Australias most legendary figures (in which there is a lot of speculation surrounding it). Ned Kelly is revered as a hero due to his defiance against discrimination and corruption but he was also a convicted police murderer – the film looks at how figures of history are perceived based on the perspective that is given. In this film Ned Kelly ‘writes his own history’ in writing to his unborn daughter suggesting that in order to acquire the truth we must also write our own and share our own personal perspectives.

I saw the film at Picturehouse, Fulham Road and there was a Q&A with George Mackay who plays Ned Kelly and Earl Cave who plays one of his brothers, Dan Kelly, afterwards. Many people in the audience who asked questions were Australian which made me and my friend, Helen, who I went with think even more about the importance of a film like this one because as British people we had not heard a lot about Ned Kelly. Whereas for Australians, Ned Kelly is this icon whose stories are legend a little like our Robin Hood or America’s Jesse James. And yet the Australian history is also a lot to do with British history – it was the Irish convicts who were sent over with English guards who often were violent and ruthless. One of the questions we asked was what the actors had learnt about the actual true history of the Kelly Gang. They said that a lot of the research they did was more into the Irish background of the family and into Irish politics in the late 1800’s. Mackay told how when speaking to an Irish guide before filming that he realised how little he actually knew of Irish politics beginning to talk about the ‘Protestants and the catholics’ and then realising that his knowledge ended there. Similarly, Helen and I thought about how little we knew of a country who is in part a part of Great Britain and a country that is so close to ours. We are given select pieces of history growing up, never given the full picture or the multiple perspectives that history has.

In the Q&A, the actors also brought up their nationalities – both are English although MacKay did seem to try to push the fact that he has some Australian heritage. It’s interesting because this also adds to the fact that English people are still playing a part in telling Ned Kelly’s story. Perhaps Kerzel purposefully cast the film in order to show that change still needs to take place.

Ned Kelly is portrayed in a very human way looking at him as a child (played by Orlando Shwerdt whose performance is phenomonal, he completely embodies the characteristics of older Ned ) and showing him becoming a ‘man’. The older Ned is played by MacKay who is also excellent in it, physically embodying the character (if you have seen the film you’ll know what I mean when you see the part in front of the Union Jack) and adding a level of emotion you wouldn’t expect contrasting a very masculine presence with a much softer inner one.

The film also stars Russel Crowe as Harry Power, a character that acts as a little comic relief in the film and acts as Ned Kellys teacher on how to be a ‘man’ and the gang leader he was going to become.The film also focuses a lot on portrayals of Australian masculinity, it shows these gang members who wear dresses into battle claiming that nothing scares a man like seeming feminine or seeming in madness.

I thought that there were quite a few similarities with William Shakespeare’s Hamlet in this regard. Like Hamlet, Ned Kelly in this film goes seemingly mad in order to deal with the situation that has been presented to him – both characters have to detach themselves in order to take action. Also like in Hamlet there are a lot of deaths, and this is quite a gory film (given an 18 rating for a reason) showing explicitly how some of the characters were killed.

Due to this violent and chaotic approach critics on Rotten Tomatoes have said that

“Its unusual approach won’t be for all viewers, but True History of the Kelly Gangtakes a distinctively postmodern look at Australia’s past.”

Rotten tomatoes (81%)

I would agree with this as I know some people might find some of the scenes to gory or too explicitly violent. Helen and I did leave the cinema feeling a little baffled by it but in a good way I think because it really made you think as a viewer about what you had just seen. Afterwards we had to sit down to have a chat and unpack it – personally I love films that give that affect because they really make you think and have an impact on you.

Overall, this was a really great movie that I feel everyone should watch even if its just to get the message of it. I truly have never seen a film like it, a film that demands so much from its audience; demanding for you to not be escaping within its world but to be wary of the fictional quality of the story. A mindset that is so important for now in our world of ‘fake news’ and rapid consumerism of so called facts.

BOOK REVIEW: The Song of Achilles

books, Reviews

I think I am off to a good start with my resolutions; of reading the books on my ever growing list. This was one of them –

“The Song of Achilles” by Madeline Miller.

The story was so captivating I couldn’t wait to pick it back up again and I finished it in just over two days! I know very little of Greek mythology and had no idea about this love story perhaps overlooked by the tales of war in Troy. It is such a tragic but beautiful love story between Achilles and Patroclus, all written in the perspective of the latter. Of the little I knew in Greek mythology, I had heard that Achilles was arrogant and selfish, Miller’s story tells a very different, sensitive side to this legend really examining the ways of human nature, about our motivations, fears and hopes and how they drive us to our fates. It is almost paralleled with Shakespeare, following a similar course to Romeo and Juliet and examining the complexities of human nature.

Overall I would highly recommend this book whether you are a Greek mythology newbie like me, or have a passion and are well read in it, I think that you would enjoy this book if you want a story of love, of pride, of fate, of what it means to be a ‘man’ and of war, this is for you. I have, however, come away with a renewed interest in wanting to learn more about Greek mythology and this part of history.

I am now about to read her second book ‘Circe’ which so many people have been raving about recently – apparently it’s a feminist take on this Greek myth. Have you read it? What did you think?

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BOOK REVIEW: Origin

books, Reviews
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I recently finished reading Origin by Dan Brown; I am a huge fan of his books anyway after having read Inferno, and this sequel does not disappoint – its just as thought provoking and fascinating as his past novels.

To sum up the novel, without spoilers, the novel is a thriller following the Harvard professor Robert Langdon going to see an ex students presentation about a new discovery he has made. He then finds himself running for his life along with Museum manager Ambra Vidal. It follows all the places they visit and all of the organisations, people and architecture in the book are real which is really interesting.

Brown also touches on some very controversial topics including the ongoing religion vs science debate and the impact technology has on todays society. It is incredibly thought provoking; it made me question and want to find out more about the topic and the way in which science and religion both have parts to play in todays society. It makes you ask questions about the relevancy of religion in the modern world, about the impact new scientific discoveries have on society and about the conflicts that can occur due to the differences in opinion people have over answering these questions.

Religion is presented almost like a comfort blanket in the novel by some characters (although the protagonist, Robert Langdon, remains a bystander throughout) as an idea that people go to when the world does not give them clear answers. For example what happens when we die – science cannot yet give a definite or ‘nice’ answer so perhaps religion is that blanket to turn to. Other characters depict a world in which science can cause more suffering for example issues with the lack of morality and emotion in computers or a lack of hope amongst society due to the less romantic answers to some questions Science is trying to answer. In this way, Brown presents a clear discussion of these themes allowing the reader to make up their own mind of what the answer should be. Science or Religion or maybe even both, side by side?

Overall I would 100 percent recommend this novel, it follows a very similar story arc as to many of his other novels but the topics are very relevant and fascinating – I couldn’t put the book down, I was so eager to find out what was going to happen next. It not only feels like you are reading a thrilling novel but also learning a lot from it too.

Have you read Origin, If so what did you think?

Have you got a favourite book? I would love to know your book recommendations – please leave a comment below!

Thank you so much for reading 🙂

(This is all my own opinion, unless otherwise stated, about the book and the themes it entails. You may think completely different ideas about the themes or have different thoughts about the novel as a whole and I am happy to hear your opinions about them)

BOOK REVIEW: Inferno

books, Reviews

I finished reading Inferno whilst on holiday in Nice, France, it was an amazing book simply because it was so thought provoking. Without giving too much away Inferno is basically about a professor helping the WHO to find a potential ‘plaque’ Zobrist could have hidden. The book takes you on a journey around Florence, Venice and Istanbul so is very cultured. I really want to go to Italy now!

I’ve seen the film as well which is still really good but the book is so much better because the ending of the film is very different and the film leaves out many of the details from the book which would probably be too difficult to portray on film.

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The main issue this book is based around though is the taboo topic of the increase in human population. The book includes a graph of this increase and how overpopulation can lead to so many issues but how we don’t know how to face the issue in an ethical way.

In my opinion it is something we need to deal with soon because we as humans do have a massive impact on the environment. The more people there are the more cars there need to be on the roads, the more electricity we need to create, the more houses we need to build, the more land we need, the more food we need, the more water we need, the more trees we need to cut down, the more of everything we need.

I kind of think we are the reason for global warming; its not necessarily just the cars we are using and other ways we are producing co2 but we are heating the world. If you think about it every piece of technology we use produces heat as a by product, the more people there are the more people there are using these products. The more people there are the more we have to use intensive farming because there is not enough land for organic farming, the more people there are the more co2 we are producing because that is the product we breathe out along with all other animals, the more heat we are creating because we live so closely together; we could be essentially creating our own greenhouse effect like when penguins huddle together to create heat. Obviously I am no scientist and this is just my opinion.

Maybe we are just so naive to not notice or do anything about the fact that we are the biggest problem facing the world. But I really couldn’t think of any way that we would be able to deal with it anyway.

Have you read inferno? if so what did you think of it x