One of the great privileges of working in TV journalism is the opportunity to watch programmes ahead of transmission. It is a thrill that never wears off, but can lure you into a dangerous wormhole where you lose your grip on the traditional understanding of ‘time’. Which is why writing about this opening week of Stage School is something of a struggle, since I already hungrily ploughed through the first fifteen episodes long ago, and can remember with ease neither those first crucial 150 minutes, nor a time before I took the darling caricatures of Bromley’s D&B Academy of Performing Arts to my bosom. But alas, I will try.
In a meeting months ago, upon hearing of the advent of a mysterious new series entitled, as we now know, Stage School, my heart skipped a beat. With glee (and we’ll get to Glee in a minute) I conjured up visions of rabid, fame-hungry momagers, their precocious under-tens caked in Essex-bright foundation, eyes pencilled-in with an offputting shade of cerulean, wailing the soundtrack of Joseph and His Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat through their little puggish nostrils, before wrestling off their tap shoes and wiping their blood-soaked feet on the splintered wooden floors of an Italia Conti dance studio. I was excited.
In fact, Stage School is not about children, which is probably for the best really – though hasn’t curbed my intrigue about the goings-on behind closed doors at Sylvia Young. No, it is about D&B Academy of Performing Arts, and the older teenagers and early twentysomethings that flock there to nurture their showstopping talents in hopes of catching the eye of an agent, who will bag them a much-coveted spot on the West End! Fast-track them to Hollywood! Or Hollyoaks, at the very least!
It is, as you may have guessed, a ‘structured reality’ series, that ever-flourishing genre which always seemed perfect to me – why gild the lily? – until I saw Stage School, and realised what TOWIE, Made in Chelsea, and all the others had been missing all these years: musical numbers. Because when TOWIE-meets-Glee-meets-Fame-meets-High School Musical-meets a can of L’Oreal Casting Crème Gloss – and the high-drama unfolds – the starry-eyed cast burst into song to bemoan their many woes and foes. As they are wont to do.
‘D&B’ could well stand for ‘dancing and bitching’ which does seem to be the main conceit of this programme, the other of course being pretending to get on with life – eating, breathing, normal human conversation – which ostensibly proves something of a struggle for these future Love Island contestants, who presumably dream of acting for a living, in a fun, ironic kick.
Stage School won’t assault your synapses in the manner of Dostoyesky, but it’s an addictive ride as you observe its attractive cast – you’d swipe right on all of them, but you’d only last one date; your pupils would dilate in horror the minute they opened their mouths (hopefully to sing) and you’d have to up and leave the Nando’s – try their very best to Live Their Normal Lives, while also simultaneously attempt to Get Noticed and Make It Big. Wholly recommended viewing. “Love the energy.”