David Mitchell

David Mitchell

Date of birth: 14-07-1974
David Mitchell wanted to be a comedian ever since he was a schoolboy, and after going up to Cambridge in 1993 , he joined the famous Footlights troupe – eventually becoming president. It was in his first year of university that he met Robert Webb, when they were both auditioning for a student pantomime.

They wrote their first show – the First-World-War-based Millions Dead or Dying ( a wry look at the post-apocalyptic age with songs) – while at university, and took it to the 1997 Edinburgh fringe.

After graduating, they appeared in regular sketch nights on the London circuit, and wrote for a number of shows including Armstrong & Miller and Big Train. Theyreturned to Ediburgh with Shopping and St***-Up (1998), The Mitchell & Webb Story (1999) and The Mitchell & Webb Clones (2001)

Their first break into television came in 2000, on the short-lived BBC sketch show Bruiser, which led to their own show on the now-defunct Play UK the following year, The Mitchell and Webb Situation.

In 2003, they landed the roles that woul dmake their name, as flatmates Mark Corrigan (Mitchell) and Jeremy Usbourne (Webb) in the multi-award-winning Peep Show, written by Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain. In 2009, Mitchell won the Bafta for Best Comedy Performance for his work on the show – while Robert Webb wasn't even nominated. The show's sixth series is due out in 2009.

Alongside this, they continued to work on their own sketch series, first on Radio 4 with three series of That Mitchell and Webb, which trasferred to TV as That Mitchell and Webb Look and had three series by 2009, winning a Bafta for best comedy in 2007.

In 2006 the pair made their first tour, The Two Faces of Mitchell and Webb, which was nominated for best stage comedy at the the British Comedy Awards, and the following year their first film, Magicians, was release, while they also fronted Apple's Mac vs PC ads.

As a solo artist, Mitchell has appeared in countless panel shows, including hosting Radio 4 's The Unbelievable Truth. He also appeared in the 2001 Radio 4 sitcom Think the Unthinkable and the 2005 BBC updating of The Taming Of The Shrew and played the recurring character of Dr James Vine in the Jennifer Saunders sitcom Jam and Jerusalem.

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Upstart Crow in the West End

Theatre review by Steve Bennett at the Gielgud Theatre

With the Only Fools musical and now Upstart Crow, are sitcoms slowly taking over London’s West End?

But while Ben Elton’s Shakespearean comedy marked a return to form for him as a TV writer, extending the premise into a two-hour stage show feels like a stretch too far. 

A game cast – including an impressive David Mitchell and a phenomenal Mark Heap – breathe life into proceedings, and ultimately make it work, but there’s a lot of lull as the in-jokes are repeatedly hammered into the ground.

Fans of the TV series – the entire audience tonight given the resounding cheer that greeted each character’s appearance on stage – will already know that Upstart Crow’s core is the overlaying of modern sensibilities on to 16th and 17th Century ones.

Gags about the huge plot holes in Shakespeare’s works, from an eye mask being a brilliantly effective disguise, to the convenience of interchangeable twins, to the assumption hiding behind a small shrub makes you invisible, remain the highlights.

Meanwhile Elton also drops every woke cause into the mouths of his characters to the point where amusing anachronism becomes a checklist of pat PC phases, from ‘gender fluidity’ to ‘toxic male entitlement’. We’re asked to consider, albeit fleetingly, the ‘personal agency’ of the Bard’s female characters; the whitewashing of black, Asian and minority ethnic characters from the history books; and whether white writers should be able to tell the stories of black characters. Though for all Elton’s superficial acknowledgement of the woke, the audience laughs hardest when a character announces he ‘identifies’ as what he’s not – a lazy, ubiquitous  joke always used to belittle trans people.

There is one essential bit of identity politics at the core of the Upstart Crow stage show, though, and that’s how closely actors need to be the roles they are portraying. That’s because the main play Elton’s chosen as his template here is  Othello, adding race to his usual gag of poor Kate, being unable to pursue her acting dreams because she’s a woman. Or rather because she doesn’t have any ‘Bollingbrookes’, to use one of the many, many childish euphemisms Elton loves so much.

There’s a touch of King Lear to the plot, too, as Shakespeare divvies his estate into three, to be split between his two real daughters – Helen Monks from the telly version plus newcomer Danielle Phillips, both sporting exaggerated comedy Brummie accents – and the loyal Kate (an always game Gemma Wheelan). Meanwhile, Twelfth Night is mixed into the Othello story via the identical twins Arragon and Desiree (Jason Callender and Rachel Summers), Egyptian nobility washed up on to the shores of Britain. It’s possible these were all potential storylines for the fourth series of the TV show, before it was axed, but here they are all smooshed into one.

Upstart Helen Monks

Some jokes are great, many less so in a script that seems to have lax quality control.  Sarcastically assuming a future where all the ills of the Elizabethan era (or technically the Stuart one in the stage incarnation, set after the death of Good Queen Bess) will have vanished is a bit tired, but Elton has fun with the never-ending engineering works that beset the coaches betwixt Stratford and London. 

Whatever its flaws the play was lapped up by the opening-night audience, and serves a great vehicle for Mitchell. In his West End debut, he gets the chance to show a range beyond his default as a superior brain comically harangued by hoi polloi that could line him up for a real Shakesperean role, should he choose.

 Heap is show-stealingly fantastic, though, as the Puritan – sorry ‘Pure Titty’ in Elton’s phrasing – whose loins stir every time he sees a woman, prompting him to self-punish for such ungodly thoughts. The increasingly stupid ‘puffling pants’ and codpiece he has to wear is a cheap but effective visual gag, while his intense performance steals the relatively few scenes he’s in – like Rik Mayall’s Flashheart stole Blackadder.

Mitchell and Rouse

From the telly, Steve Speirs returns as Burbage, an actor of Brian Blessed like subtlety, and Rob Rouse as the blunt-talking servant Bottom, always bringing his master down a peg or two.

The skilled cast – with the aid of director Sean Foley, the go-to guy for any West End comedy – flesh out the lines expertly, and once the script returns its focus to the main story, it becomes engaging once more, making the conclusion seem like a triumph.

But Shakespeare, it ain’t. 

Upstart Crow is booking at the Gielgud Theatre, London, until April 9. Tickets

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Published: 18 Feb 2020

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Past Shows

Edinburgh Fringe 2001

Mitchell and Webb Clones


Edinburgh Fringe 2011

BBC: The Unbelievable Truth


Edinburgh Fringe 2012

BBC: The Unbelievable Truth 2012


Edinburgh Fringe 2013

BBC: The Unbelievable Truth [2013]


Misc live shows

David Mitchell Live


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