From the seed of an idea to a pilot episode in just a few weeks, Staged, starring David Tennant and Michael Sheen, hits our screens on Wednesday night and so far, the response to this lockdown triumph has been incredible with rave reviews.
Having had a sneak preview of what’s in store, it is easy to see why Oxfordshire’s Simon Evans and Phin Glynn have a lot to smile about. Based on an original idea by the duo, Staged is written and directed by Evans and is an Infinity Hill/GCB Films production for BBC One.
Staged features the cast of a play – the cream of the crop of British acting talent – who are furloughed when their upcoming West End production is suddenly brought to a halt. The series follows the cast as they try their best to keep the rehearsals on track in lockdown.
Absurd and humorous in equal measure, Staged takes on the challenges of creating a drama in lockdown, on stage and off, with a line-up including Georgia Tennant, Lucy Eaton and Anna Lundberg. The show will also have a selection of guest stars including Nina Sosanya, with more to be confirmed in due course.
Producer Phin Glynn (who lives in Kingston Bagpuize) told us that when they started writing the pilot episode for the series, they had no idea if it would translate onto the screen: “We really didn’t know if it would work so instead of spending time trying to get investors to fund it we thought we would just get on with it and do it.
“From the initial idea we had a pilot episode in about five weeks and then produced the remaining five episodes over four weeks. It has been sheer joy and an absolute dream to work on.”
Although written under the constraints of lockdown, Staged is not about Covid-19. Phin added: “It was important never to make it about the Coronavirus but to use lockdown as a backdrop.”
The Staged production team followed the latest government guidelines on Covid-19 to ensure that the series was made safely and responsibly, using a combination of self-shooting and video conferencing technology, all in accordance with the latest protocols.
Writer and Director Simon Evans, who also acts in the series, added: “It became a race against relevance as the series would have lost a lot of its cachet if we had not been able to make it as quickly as we did.
“We were keen to get it out as soon as possible and we hope that it will still make people laugh long after lockdown is over. We hope that people will watch it in a couple of years and still enjoy it.”
Staged has been created using video conferencing and iPhone footage, and the cast have also had to take on the roles of camera operators, lighting designers and wardrobe crew as they shot pretty much all of the episodes themselves.
Early on there was a need for a certain level of ‘technical support’ but as time went on the cast got better at using equipment to get really good results.
Phin added: “When we started making the series, we couldn’t get microphones anywhere so everyone was issued with an iPhone and we just got on with it. The cast have had to do a lot themselves and the results are brilliant. When we pitched it to the BBC we thought they might want us to make it look better and edit it differently but when they saw the pilot they just said carry on – so we did!”
Or as Charlotte Moore, Director BBC Content agrees: “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.”
Although the series is tightly scripted, the obvious chemistry between David Tennant and Michael Sheen has led to moments of creative free flow. With special guest stars lined up for the later episodes, this has encouraged them to join in with the dialogue in a similar way.
Simon explained: “David and Michael have such natural and brilliant chemistry and we started to detect that suddenly one would have a glint in his eye and then they just sort of improvised. This has made for some pretty ground-breaking performances and when the guest stars came on board it provided them with the opportunity to do the same.”
Phin added: “They were such good sports and it was clear quickly that they were very much in it together. There was an immediate fear that the scripts were asking people to say things they would never normally say but the special guests just joined in and jumped into those murky waters too!”
Simon and Phin should have been in Cambodia filming their new movie Hunters in the Dark, which they hope will still happen at a later date, but they have embraced the lockdown opportunity to make TV programmes in a different way.
Phin said: “Obviously this is not a good situation for anyone to be in and we do need life to return to normal, but one of the most beautiful things to come out of lockdown has been the opportunity for TV to be able to react to the situation in this way. It’s rare that television productions can do this.”
Staged gives us a glimpse into the lockdown family life of David and Michael and it is not long before it feels like you are actually in a Zoom call with two friends. Simon said: “They have both told us how much they enjoyed making the series, and you do get a real feeling that they are genuine friends quite quickly.”
With many hours spent together on video calls, and Simon acting as well as writing and directing, it would be understandable if tempers had become a little frayed, but nothing could be further from the truth.
Phin said: “Simon’s acting has really made for some good scenes and we have not fallen out at all! It has been strange not being able to see each other face to face but it really has been a wonderful experience. In the future we feel one of the big changes we see will be all about collaboration and we have seen people become very flexible and eager to help create TV in a very different way.”
The series will air on BBC One on Wednesday and will be available as a binge-worthy box set on BBC iPlayer from Thursday.
The producers are Phin Glynn, Oxford’s Victor Glynn and Georgia Tennant. David Tennant and Michael Sheen are also executive producers of the series. Executive Producers for Infinity Hill are Axel Kuschevatzky and Cindy Teperman and for GCB, Geoff Iles.