David Tennant and Michael Sheen reunite to bring us some much-needed laughter in difficult times in new lockdown-inspired BBC comedy series Staged
First announced at the end of May, Staged is a rather unique comedy. David Tennant and Michael Sheen star as fictionalised versions of themselves in this topical series, which is set during the current lockdown. Staged uses a clever combination of self-shooting, video conferencing technology, and exterior footage to capture life during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Comprised of six 15-minute episodes, the series follows actors Michael and David (along with their families and colleagues) whose rehearsals for an upcoming West End production of Pirandello’s Six Characters in Search of An Author have been unexpectedly cancelled. Keen to make the most of the situation, their director Simon (played by the show’s real-life writer and director Simon Evans) suggests that they continue rehearsing and casting the play remotely over the internet. However, this idea proves far less straightforward in practice, as clashing egos, along with the challenges of everyday life under quarantine, threaten to derail the production.
Also appearing throughout Staged are Tennant and Sheen’s real-life other halves, Georgia Tennant and Anna Lundberg. Lucy Eaton also stars as Simon’s sister Lucy, with Nina Sosanya playing Jo, the source of the play’s funding and the series’ only wholly fictional character. What’s more, there are appearances from some rather impressive and unexpected special guest stars across the show’s six episodes.
Staged Paints a Humorous But Honest Picture of Life in Lockdown
Over the past couple of months, the casts and creators of a number of shows and films have reunited to produce special, one-off content remotely. Projects such as Doctor Who: Lockdown, as well as a sketch celebrating the 30th anniversary of Good Omens‘ publication starring Tennant and Sheen themselves, have shown that high-quality and entertaining stories can still be produced under current circumstances.
Staged follows suit, as it makes full use its premise and the available filming and editing techniques to paint a humorous but honest picture of life in lockdown. Throughout the series, many familiar elements of what has now become everyday life are touched upon. David and Georgia struggle to home-school their children, and Michael tries to hide the fact that he and Anna have been drinking more heavily from his neighbours. Several characters are clearly struggling with the effects of cabin fever, whilst others appear far more well-adjusted to their situation (although they might just be putting up a front). As well as this, the challenges which come with having to communicate through video calls rather than face-to-face are integral to much of the show’s comedy. Viewers should brace themselves for some serious second-hand embarrassment around Episode Three!
These moments are carefully woven into the story as the series unfolds, making writer Simon Evans‘ commentary on current events feel genuinely relatable, rather than it being too on the nose. By having most of the cast play slightly altered versions of themselves in their own homes, as well as incorporating recent footage of empty London streets and empty supermarket shelves, Staged creates an intimate but reassuring atmosphere of shared experiences. The viewers feels as though they’ve been invited into the characters’ world, as opposed to being an outside observer. Because of this, Sosanya feels a little out of place as Jo at times, due to her being the only completely fictional character.
What’s more, whilst it is primarily a comedy, the series isn’t afraid to shy away from the harsh realities of life during a global pandemic. There’s a serious shift in tone when a subplot involving Michael’s elderly neighbour takes a turn for the worse, but it makes for an important inclusion to the story overall.
Tennant and Sheen‘s Relationship Lays at the Heart of Staged
Michael and David (both the characters and the actors themselves) are central to the series, with their relationship forming the foundation for the events of Staged. Thankfully, Evans clearly understands their friendship very well, as he is able to capture it effortlessly in his writing. Although Tennant and Sheen have revealed in a recent Q&A that there was an element of improvisation involved in creating the series, it’s very difficult to distinguish between moments which were scripted and those which were not.
Following their leading double-act performance in the BBC and Amazon Prime‘s recent adaptation of Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett‘s Good Omens, it’s clear that Michael Sheen and David Tennant make a fantastic duo, both on-screen and off. Their natural chemistry is clear whether they’re acting opposite each other as angel Aziraphale and demon Crowley, or whether they’re being interviewed together, and this chemistry seamlessly translates into Staged.
Tennant and Sheen’s clear and genuine friendship shines through every time they interact, and makes them enormous fun to watch. They’re bound to have viewers laughing within the first minute of the first episode as they banter and poke fun at one another in the way only real friends can. Whether they’re casually chatting or arguing with one another, Michael and David’s interactions make for the most memorable and stand-out moments of the series.
Staged‘s Foundation in Real Life Only Makes it Stronger
As is made clear by Michael and David’s relationship across the series, Staged‘s strength lies in its ability to draw on the cast’s own experiences. It’s what makes real-life husband and wife David and Georgia Tennant’s interactions just as entertaining to watch, as it’s more than likely that their frustrations with home-schooling and losing track of their multitudinous children are based on actual conversations!
Indeed, although the show’s overarching plotline following the cast and crew’s struggle to continue rehearsing Six Characters in Search of An Author is of course entirely fabricated, it benefits from having that same quality of being a small step away from reality. Despite the current state of the world, actors are still actors, and directors are still directors. They can’t escape the enduring issues which come with negotiating casting, as well as conflicting egos. The latter feeds into an excellent running joke centred around the billing order on the play’s poster, which rewards viewers who stick around until the very end of the credits of each episode!
Even viewers who aren’t overly familiar with the performing arts will have come across someone like Simon – a director who’s determined not to let this opportunity pass him by, but struggles to take charge of his cast, a shortcoming which is only emphasised by Jo’s ruthlessness.
Staged‘s running commentary on the world of theatre (as well as the lockdown) makes Six Characters in Search of An Author a very appropriate choice of play, but one which is somewhat underused. What little time Michael, David, and Simon do spend running through lines highlights how Six Characters‘ metatheatricality parallels that of the show itself, which is something that could have been brought to the foreground a little more often.
Staged is Just the Kind of Lighthearted Show We Need Right Now
Overall, Staged feels anything but that. Each of its six 15-minute episodes are bound to put a smile on your face, which is all the more reason to watch the series in shorter bursts, rather than binge-watching it in one sitting. Whilst Staged is very much grounded in the here and now, it puts a lighthearted and genuinely funny spin on what has been (and continues to be) a difficult time for everyone. It’s just the kind of show we need right now.