Staged is more than just actors in lockdown

Staged; (BBC1, 10.45pm & 11pm)

David and Michael are exploring what it’s like to be an actor in lockdown
David and Michael are exploring what it’s like to be an actor in lockdown

Many people have been worried about their jobs over the past few weeks, and actors are no exception, especially with some theatres reporting that they are facing uncertain futures.

But some of our thespians have managed to find ways to keep working, even during a pandemic.

Last month, ITV brought us Isolation Stories, a series of short dramas starring the likes of Sheridan Smith and Eddie Marsan, while this week the locals of Emmerdale are getting out of the Woolpack and into lockdown with special two-hander episodes.

The BBC is promising us new versions of Alan Bennett’s acclaimed Talking Heads monologues, starring Jodie Comer, Martin Freeman, Sarah Lancashire, Lesley Manville and Imelda Staunton among others.

And in Staged, which begins tonight, David Tennant and Michael Sheen aren’t just making their own socially distanced series, they’re also exploring what it’s like to be an actor in lockdown.

The pair, who were last seen together in the drama Good Omens, play versions of themselves (meaning we get to hear Sheen’s own voice, rather than one of his spot on impressions – he was recently a very convincing Chris Tarrant in Quiz), who were due to star in Six Characters in Search Of An Author in the West End until the pandemic led to the production being cancelled.

However, the director (the series real-life director, writer and co-creator Simon Evans, who also plays himself) isn’t about to let a global crisis come between him and his big chance, so he persuades his stars that they can till rehearse over the internet.

In theory, all they need to do is read the first scene, but home-schooling, numerous distractions and their own egos make that more difficult than it sounds.

Fortunately, it seems that the real-life Tennant and Sheen didn’t need quite so much cajoling to take part in Staged, much to the relief of the BBC.

Charlotte Moore, Director of BBC Content says: “It’s vital that the BBC provides moments of light relief and this mischievous idea shows what great sports Michael and David are in sending themselves up.”

They’ve filmed the series using a combination of self-shooting and video-conferencing technology, while the supporting cast includes the actors’ real-life partners Georgia Tennant and Anna Lundberg – but we’re promised there will be some socially distanced cameos from other guest stars, including Nina Sosanya.

In the first episode (it’s six parts, but each instalment is only 15 minutes), the actors reluctantly begin their rehearsals. But by the second helping of this opening double bill, Simon has already gone missing, which gives David and Michael the perfect opportunity to ditch rehearsals themselves.

It doesn’t mean they can just put their feet up though as Georgia wants David to stand in and help with the kids while she delivers her novel to her agent, and her writing gives him an idea for a new project of his own. At least that should keep him out of trouble – unlike Michael, who is caught breaking the law.

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