Why Staged should be your next box set
Ivan Radford | On 10, Jun 2020
“The Welsh must have a good word for the end of the world.” That’s David Tennant to Michael Sheen, as the pair connect in lockdown. The two actors are persuaded to continue preparing for a theatre production they had planned by pushy director Simon Evans – and that’s the premise for Staged, BBC One’s new comedy.
Two performers playing versions of themselves? It’s a gem of an idea, not least because another show has had that idea already: The Trip. Rather than watching a pair of thespian friends swan about restaurants in sunny, overseas climbs, though, Staged watches a pair of bored actors trying to stave off cabin fever. It’s a trip, but one in which nobody goes anywhere.
Written and directed by Evans, with – you suspect – a fair chunk of improvisation from its cast, the show hinges upon the chemistry of its leading men, and they don’t disappoint. They clearly relish the chance to send themselves up, with Sheen portrait himself as a vain, grumpy sort, but also an annoyingly talented figure – when he and Tennant first connect, he’s already painted a stunning watercolour and boasted about being able to speak Italian. Tennant, meanwhile, is mildly bitter and egotistical – the kind of man who’s still bitter about not getting top billing on their Amazon and BBC Two series Good Omens.
Anyone who enjoyed their friendship in Good Omens will know what to expect from two men who are wonderfully comfortable in each other’s company, able to play to each other’s strengths and ensure their comic timing is in perfect sync. With the cameras largely in close on their faces, we catch every knowing glance or eye-roll when the other is talking, and the darting desperation lingering just below the surface. By the end of their first video rehearsal, Sheen has started drinking wine heavily, while Tennant has started drinking tea out of a mug with his face on.
There’s fun seeing them play on their own personas – Sheen undermines his loveable image by plotting to sneak empty bottles into his elderly neighbour’s recycling, while Tennant doubles down on his boyish charm by dialling up the immature selfishness, complaining about how he’s had to “look after the kids” all day. But there’s also a nice observation of what lockdown is like for all of us, whether it’s their partners wandering in and out of the background of each call – the duo’s real life partners, Georgia Tennant and Anna Lundberg – or Sheen’s growing suspicion that birds are gathering, Hitchock-like in the garden.
The show hops neatly from their webcams to each actor elsewhere at home or to Evans in his car, before returning to the subject of Pirandello’s Six Characters In Search Of An Author. Best of all, though, is the show’s smart decision to keep things short and snappy, with 6 episodes of 15 minutes each ensuring that we never get tired of their petty bickering and amusingly melancholic lamenting. The result is somewhere between The Trip and W1A, a knowingly funny showcase for two actors enjoying having something to do. The Welsh may have a good word for the end of the world (see the title of Episode 1), but even it is, this easy-to-watch box set is an oddly comforting distraction.
Staged is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription. It is also available on BBC iPlayer until June 2021