REVIEW: BBC’s Staged

Staged BBC

Staged is a six-episode miniseries that proves that there can be quality quarantine content even when it’s basically just two veteran actors arguing with each other about whose name gets to come first in the credits.

Michael Sheen and David Tennant (or David Tennant and Michael Sheen) continue to be the gift that keeps giving. Not only did they reprise their characters from Good Omens for a special lockdown episode that was uploaded earlier this year, but they also got together to play fictional (or exaggerated) versions of themselves for Staged, a miniseries about actors trying their best to rehearse a play while stuck in their homes.

The chemistry between the two actors, who are clearly good friends in real life, never falters and the most enjoyable parts of Staged are when they are just ranting and rambling with each other about random things from painting, childhood punishments, linguistic quandaries, literary aspirations, and even a tiff with an elderly neighbor over some recycling bins. This is peak quarantine content as both Tennant and Sheen effectively capture the ineffable restlessness of days in lockdown as well as the despondency of performers unable to do what they do best.

With the performing arts industry among the hardest hit by the pandemic, one does fear for the future of theater, television, and movies, and no doubt all the people involved in the process are feeling this anxiety as well. Staged is very meta in its exploration of not only what it’s like to be stuck at home but what kinds of lengths actors must now go to stay active and employed. The particular scenario is a humorous one and Staged itself is a delight, but one does wonder how much more can be done to sustain the rest of the arts community.

The six episodes are less than twenty minutes long and are mostly Sheen and Tennant rambling in video calls trying to get through the long, lockdown days. The comedy was written and directed by Simon Evans, who also stars as the director of the play, Luigi Pirandello’s Six Characters in Search of an Author. He desperately tries to put everything together via Zoom even as both his stars begin to bicker and then lose interest in the project entirely. Nina Sosanya stars as Jo, the financier of the play, someone way more capable of keeping actors in line than the director himself and Evans’ real sister, Lucy, stars as his sister on the show.

Georgia Tennant and Anna Lundberg are also excellent as Tennant and Sheen’s long-suffering but still-supportive life partners, no doubt barely acting but just having a lot of fun nonetheless. Showing these real life couples (or siblings) quarantined together is a growing trend with lockdown television because it at least allows for actors to physically interact with their cast-mates safely. Georgia and Anna also seem to be the voices of reason in their respective households even as their neurotic partners begin to act more and more petulant and absurd.

Staged also manages to include several significant and even surprising guest stars who chime in on the rehearsal process and add spice to the episodes. One guest star’s involvement even drives a wedge between the two stars for a while but it is testament to the bond they’ve forged through the years that they are able to easily resolve their internal conflicts through a simple game of Battleship.

While the play rehearsals seem to be a perfunctory attempt at giving Staged a plot, the episodes are strongest when they are focused on Sheen and Tennant’s antics. These two actors are just so talented and charming that we could easily be entertained watching them rant about life and do silly voices all day long. There are far worse ways to spend quarantine.