David Mitchell to star as Shakespeare in new BBC Two sitcom by Ben Elton

We are so delighted that Ben has risen to the challenge and taken up his quill, to create such a rich, vibrant and ribald world. The BBC Two audience are in for a real treat. Myfanwy Moore, Controller, UK Comedy Production
Date: 07.12.2015     Last updated: 07.12.2015 at 13.58
Category: BBC Two; Comedy
BBC Two has confirmed that it has commissioned Upstart Crow - a six-part series about the life of William Shakespeare, as part of the BBC Shakespeare Festival 2016 - a major season celebrating the genius of Shakespeare, 400 years after his death.

In Upstart Crow, to be broadcast on BBC Two in 2016, Shakespeare will be played by David Mitchell.

It’s 1592 and Will Shakespeare is just at the beginning of his extraordinary career. The series will focus on both Will’s family and professional life and include the surprising stories of where many of his ideas came from. Also featured are his wife Anne and his extended family, his servant Bottom, his friends Kate and Marlowe, his theatrical troupe, and his rival Robert Greene.

In the series, Will finds inspiration for Romeo from an unlikely source; mislays a nearly treasonous masterpiece; gets tricked into a very embarrassing pair of tights; has a spot of bother with the wife over some sonnets; meets three witches who predict great things for him; and borrows some money on some rather unusual conditions.

Other cast confirmed are Harry Enfield (Harry & Paul) as Will’s dad, John Shakespeare; Paula Wilcox (Emmerdale) as Will’s mum; Liza Tarbuck (Linda Green, Mount Pleasant) as Anne Hathaway; Helen Monks (Raised by Wolves) as Will’s daughter Susannah; Gemma Whelan (Game of Thrones) as Kate; Mark Heap (Spaced, Friday Night Dinner) as Sir Robert Greene, Will’s nemesis; Steve Speirs (Big School) as Burbage; Tim Downie (Paddington, Toast of London) as Marlowe; Dominic Coleman (Peaky Blinders, Trollied) as Kempleton; Spencer Jones (Big Babies) as a member of Burbage’s company; and Rob Rouse (Grownups) as Bottom. Further cast details will be announced at a later date.

Ben Elton says: “I have tried very hard to think myself into Shakespeare’s creative world, writing only with a small chicken feather and not changing my underpants for a year.”

David Mitchell says: “I’m delighted to be playing England’s greatest bard at this difficult time for bards everywhere. You just try getting work as a bard these days. It’s virtually impossible.”

Myfanwy Moore, Controller of UK Comedy Production, says: “We are so delighted that Ben has risen to the challenge and taken up his quill, to create such a rich, vibrant and ribald world. The BBC Two audience are in for a real treat."

Kim Shillinglaw, Controller BBC Two and BBC Four, adds: “Attracting the very best creatives to BBC Two to do their most signature work is exactly what I want the channel to do and so I’m thrilled that talent of the calibre of Ben Elton, David Mitchell and Harry Enfield are bringing us this wonderfully witty new show. Comedy has always been part of BBC Two’s DNA and this extraordinarily inventive new series will be a central part of BBC Two's Shakespeare celebrations next year, alongside The Hollow Crown and our live show in partnership with the RSC.”

Upstart Crow is part of the BBC’s Shakespeare Festival 2016. In April 2016, as the nation marks 400 years since William Shakespeare’s death, the BBC will celebrate our greatest writer and bring his work to a new generation. Working with key partners including the Royal Shakespeare Company, The British Council, the Royal Opera House, Shakespeare’s Globe, Hay Festival, the Space and the British Film Institute, the ambition is to get more people enjoying Shakespeare than ever before by interpreting his work in bold, new ways and placing it at the heart of the schedules - across TV, radio and online.

The BBC Shakespeare Festival will launch on 23 April - to celebrate Shakespeare's birthday - and continue for a month across our services.

On BBC Two, viewers will be treated to the next extraordinary instalment of The Hollow Crown, with three more episodes starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Judi Dench and many others. And the Royal Shakespeare Company is staging a live birthday celebration, hosted by David Tennant with some of the biggest names of stage, screen and song.

Russell T Davies, one of our greatest storytellers, is filming A Midsummer Night's Dream for primetime BBC One with the cream of British talent, including Maxine Peake, Matt Lucas, Bernard Cribbins, Elaine Paige and Richard Wilson.