Ben Elton writes an episode of his latest sitcom that criticises Comic Relief? Seems so.
Upstart Crow is the latest sitcom written by Elton for BBC2, following The Young Ones, Blackadder, Blessed and The Thin Blue Line. It stars David Mitchell and tells the London and Stratford life of William Shakespeare, his family, and his work colleagues. Starting its third series in the autumn it will, as ever, juxtapose modern mores and ideas against those of the time for comic effect, as well as reflecting modern thoughts about Shakespeare.
One such episode, set around the writing of The Merchant of Venice, sees the very real street riots against Dutch immigrants of the day, inspiring a charity benefit performance at the Globe Theatre for the beleaguered Dutch. It is dubbed Inflated Pigs Bladder Day, with performers Richard Burbage and Henry Condell reprising their ‘arse-kicking’ routine from series one, with the master’s red face now emphasised by a red pig’s bladder placed on the nose. But, as onlookers Shakespeare and his landlord’s niece Kate observe, there is a crunching and awkward gear change in moving from such a scene to that of asking for donations for people’s despair.
Added to that, there are other conversations worrying that such charity fundraisers do little save for make the donors happier and less guilty, that it may make recipients depend on the aid received, and it may also have a detrimental effect on the government doing what is necessary.
These are all charges that have been laid against Comic Relief and its Red Nose Day telethons. And it’s Ben Elton’s close connections to the telethon, hosting it, appearing on it, and a co-worker with its founder, Richard Curtis, on shows like Blackadder that make that juxtaposition just as awkward as well.
What, would’st thou have a serpent sting thee twice?
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