‘Who is Simon Evans?’ has been the question on everyone’s lips since the huge success of his BBC lockdown comedy Staged, starring Michael Sheen and David Tennant.
Next up Simon is hosting Wednesday’s Oxford Playhouse fundraising evening A Theatre Near You, written by comedian Kevin Day.
The livestreamed comedy gig features the likes of Steven Fry, Marcus Brigstocke, Lucy Porter and Rachel Parris (The Mash Report, BBC2), Playhouse panto Favourites Ricky Oakley and Paul Biggin; Natalie Paris as Jane Seymour from SIX The Musical and OP Evolve artist and Freelance Taskforce member Amantha Edmead.
And yes you’ve guessed it, it’s all being directed by the new go-to man of virtual drama and comedy Simon Evans.
A cause close to Simon’s heart then? “Absolutely. I think my first theatre experience was at the Oxford Playhouse, but I love all of the Oxford theatres – the Burton Taylor and OFS.”
Simon grew up in Oxford, went to The Dragon School and then Abingdon, alongside Toby Young, Tom Hollander and Radiohead, his parents running a dental practice in Kidlington.
Talking from his home in Noke, near Stanton St John in Oxfordshire, Simon’s career has moved in a totally different direction due to lockdown, exposing him to a whole new audience.
Rather bemused by his newfound fame, the acclaimed stage director has worked with the likes of Orlando Bloom, Andrew Scott, Lenny Henry, and most latterly Toby Stephens and Claire Skinner in A Day in The Death of Joe Egg.
Next up was Tom Stoppard’s Real Thing which ground to a halt in lockdown, as did his film directorial debut Hunters In The Dark due to be filmed in Cambodia about now.
When lockdown began, and everything shut down, Simon, like so many of his colleagues, was out of work for the foreseeable future.
And so he began writing a TV series called Staged about his predicament, ie a director about to start on a new West End production, coercing his stars into rehearsing in lockdown.
“If we can come up with the right idea we will think about filming another series of staged, because there is certainly the appetite for it”
Once Michael Sheen and David Tennant were on board it was all systems go. Simon whipped up a script, he and Phin Glynn made a pilot episode, sent it to the BBC and were given the green light in May. They then had a month to film the next five episodes.
Not that Simon ever intended to star in it himself. So what happened? “Time was of the essence because we really needed to film and screen Staged in lockdown, so we aimed to edit me out at a later date if needs be. But it worked as it was, so we left it, although I’m not that apologetic in real life I promise,” he laughs.
The nation has since laughed its way through the whole series recognising not only the joyful friendship that exists between Sheen and Tennant and their ability to mock themselves, but that, famous or not, we are all in this together.
“David and Michael were amazing, more than happy to poke fun at themselves and be seen in an unflattering light at times,” Simon recalls. “They were so up for it, considering they were all working from home surrounded by children, babies and partners.
READ FULL ARTICLE ABOUT OXFORD’S PART IN STAGED: https://www.oxinabox.co.uk/david-tennant-and-michael-sheen-hit-our-screens-in-staged-on-wednesday-night-we-chat-to-the-oxfordshire-team-behind-the-lockdown-comedy/
Was Simon surprised by Staged’s success? “Yes, but then I also forgot what household names David and Michael were, because we had such a tight work schedule, until they then appeared on the front page of every national newspaper.”
Thanks to Staged’s repeated airings, Simon has been inundated with collaboration requests, and is currently considering a second series of Staged.
“We are talking about it, we are having those conversations. If we can come up with the right idea we will think about it because there is certainly the appetite for another series. I don’t want to tarnish what we are so proud of but it’s also important to keep making new work and putting it out there.”
First up however Simon is hosting, or should I say directing, Wednesday’s Oxford Playhouse fundraising evening.
The livestreamed comedy gig, thought up by Harry Househam of Jericho Comedy, aims to demonstrate how hard the government has made it for theatres to open without live audiences, while celebrating the range and diversity of talent.
“It’s a very scary time for theatres at the moment, not just when they can reopen but how. Will people want to go to a theatre with an audience of 50 instead of a full house and what will that be like?” Simon asks.
“Today’s bail out news is important of course, but there is a suggestion that the big institutions such as The Albert Hall and National Theatre will take precedent. Yet all those regional theatres represent an area’s whole cultural ID and it doesn’t bear thinking about how we can survive without them.
“So I’m delighted to be supporting Oxford Playhouse. It will be a lovely evening with some really special guests, all there to prove that theatres are a vital part of the community and that while theatres are still here, so are their audiences.”
A Theatre Near You, is directed by Simon Evans and written by writer/comedian Kevin Day featuring Stephen Fry and Friends and presented by Oxford Playhouse, Jericho Comedy and Macrocosmic in aid of the Playhouse Plays On Appeal.
The virtual evening of comedy and performance will land in living rooms across the country on Wednesday July 8.
Tickets are priced at £25, and limited to 632, a full house at Oxford Playhouse. Links to the livestream will be emailed to all bookers on Wednesday 8 July from 5pm. Book at http://www.oxfordplayhouse.com
And remember you can donate to the Oxford Playhouse fundraising campaign by clicking on their banner advert above.