We’ve all been there. Anxiously fiddling around trying to get Zoom to work, you finally log on and find everyone is talking over each other. You eventually establish a ‘turns’ system, and when it’s your chance to speak… the internet connection is lost.
Of course, not everyone’s internet cuts out right before they pitch an idea to an already-irritable Michael Sheen.
BBC One’s six-part comedy Staged brilliantly satirises the ‘new normal’ that we’ve all come to know under lockdown, where dodgy video conferences and children wailing off-screen are the order of the day.
The show also sees Sheen and David Tennant reunite on-screen for the first time since they appeared together in Good Omens. In that fantasy adaptation, Sheen played a fussy angel and Tennant played a swaggering demon, but in Staged, the roles are somewhat reversed.
Both actors play exaggerated versions of themselves in the show. Stuck at home, they were due to appear together in a West End play, but that seems to be on the back burner – until the play’s director, Simon Evans, suggests to Tennant that they rehearse remotely via Zoom.
There’s only one catch: Sheen (whom Simon is a little bit scared of) isn’t keen on the idea, and must be coaxed and flattered by Tennant until he agrees.
While Tennant plays Simon’s affable intermediary, Sheen is grumpy and sweary, and obsessed with the “bastard” birds that are gathering outside his window, half-believing himself to be stuck inside an Alfred Hitchcock film.
Even when they’re miles apart and staring at screens, the chemistry between the pair is electric – their friendship is clearly at the stage where they can frequently take the piss out of one another, culminating during episode one in an hilarious and childish debate over whose name should take precedence in the play’s marketing (Tennant, citing Good Omens’ marketing: “It’s my turn!”, right down to looking at each other’s Wikipedia pages to see whose middle name comes first in alphabetical order.
Both actors are encouraged to take part in the remote rehearsals by their respective (real-life) partners, the actors Georgia Tennant and Anna Lundberg. As Georgia (who also produced the show) points out, Tennant goes more than a little stir-crazy when left to his own devices without a project to work on. The shouts and screams of their five children in the background only enhance her point.
The six episodes are all only 15-to-20 minutes long, combining remote conversations on Zoom with footage of both actors at home. For fans of Sheen and Tennant (or Tennant and Sheen) that may seem too short, but I’ve found it the perfect length, easy to slot into a lunch break if you decide to stream the episodes as a boxset via iPlayer, rather than watching it in nightly chunks on BBC One (which, let’s face it, many of us will do).
Shorter episodes are ideally suited to lockdown – just look at Normal People, made up of half-hour chunks – as viewers stuck at home either look for a binge worthy box-set, or else are forced to watch programmes on-demand as and when they can, as they juggle (as the Tennants do) both work and childcare.
Staged will no doubt be a hit, its bitesize-chunks formula winningly combined with Tennant and Sheen’s easy, witty banter and insights into lockdown life. Broadcasters and streamers have obviously woken up to the future potentials of the actors’ on-screen partnership – and the only question left is when we’ll see them together next.
Staged begins on Wednesday 10th June at 10:45pm on BBC One, with a double bill. The whole series will be available as a boxset on BBC iPlayer straight after transmission on the 10th.