The coronavirus crisis has had a significant impact on television. New drama productions are on hold, daytime shows are conducted in empty studios or via video streams from presenters’ houses, and reruns are popping up in prime-time slots. But while TV producers are forced to get creative; the theatre finds itself in far more disastrous circumstances, with all venues shut to paying audiences and the vast majority of productions indefinitely postponed. London “super-producer” Sonia Friedman even suggests that most UK theatres may never reopen after this pandemic.
Into this wild abyss comes BBC One’s Staged, a meta TV satire starring (real-life friends) David Tennant and Michael Sheen as lightly fictionalised versions of themselves, who are both in rehearsals for a play with an uncertain future. Instead of abandoning ship, director Simon Evans (also playing himself) has a bright idea – stick to a rigorous rehearsal schedule over Zoom, and they can get ahead of their competition once lockdown restrictions are lifted, with a perfected production ready to take to the stage. So we watch as Tennant and Sheen chat aimlessly about lockdown life, debating their recycling or the pathetic contents of the fridge, reluctantly going along with Evans’s farcical attempts at work, and generally trying to stave off a slow descent into madness.
There is a lot of fun to be had here: the voyeuristic thrill of nosing at Tennant’s statement wallpaper; the joy of seeing both actors’ partners, Georgia Tennant and Anna Lundberg, out-acting the men.
At points it can seem a bit, well, staged (a few meandering scenes aside, it mostly feels scripted, not improvised). But it is nevertheless charming: absurdly silly in a quiet, understated way.
This article appears in the 17 Jun 2020 issue of the New Statesman, The History Wars