While live theatre is still on indefinite hold, the BBC have devised a placeholder in the form of ‘Staged’, starring David Tennant and Michael Sheen. Fueled by metatheatrical winks and nods between razor-sharp observational humour, this new mini-series is a hilarious and welcome reminder of the actors and directors nationwide just waiting in the wings to get back to our stages – some with more panache than others.
The six fifteen-minute episodes (of which two aired in a double bill last night) follow David Tennant and Michael Sheen as they attempt to rehearse for a Covid-postponed project, ‘Six Characters in Search of an Author’. The choice of the play is in itself brilliant – David and Michael are of course two actors in search of, well, anyone who can keep them going.
“David and Michael are of course two actors in search of, well, anyone who can keep them going”
They, like us, are coping with the everyday problems lockdown presents, from David Tennant’s childcare arrangements for his brood of five to Michael Sheen’s new lockdown drinking habit, but they are also grappling with what the lockdown has done to the industry. Cancelled projects and the boredom and dip in self-worth that comes with them are a sad fact right now for so many in and outside of the creative arts and then there are the pressures and challenges of ‘being ready’ to contend with, whilst having no idea how best to apply yourself. But it’s funny. Painfully true, but for being so all the more hilarious.
The premise is simple, but it doesn’t matter that the storyline is light because the show is at its best when it feels organic and unscripted. David Tennant has a crack at some Welsh, the pair discuss giving their Hamlet to their respective companies and their egos do a little tête-à-tête for our pleasure. I personally also really enjoy snooping into their houses. Sheen’s idyllic country life with its brick fireplaces, bookshelves and surrounding fields vs. Tennant’s London townhouse with subway tiles, spotless kitchen and fake grass on the roof garden. They are the town mouse and the country mouse of lockdown, and I personally know where I would rather be!
It is brave of the BBC to have run with this programming. You can almost feel the gratitude radiating from those involved to be acting, creating for an audience largely sat at home desperate for an injection of something current, something new. With rules and attitudes changing daily, if not hourly, a quick turnaround was critical. There are many examples out there of theatre in the face of lockdown on the internet (The Lockdown Theatre Company, BBC Radio 3 and 4’s approaching Lockdown Theatre Festival and the previously reviewed Painkiller Podcast and Bare E-ssentials scratch night to name just a few) but none of these examples engage directly with the lockdown itself. ‘Staged’ feels like a little time capsule and the footage of empty London streets that provides some scene transitions only enhances the strangeness and uniqueness of this time.
Subsequent episodes will be available online all at once but personally, I feel rationing them through the lockdown week by week is the way to go. Bitesize chunks of seriously funny lockdown life, bookended with any and every kind of escapism.
‘Staged’ is available on the BBC iplayer now at https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episodes/p08dnl67/staged