Upstaged by ‘the monologue woman’ – Phoebe Waller-Bridge steals the show, Staged series 2 review

A semi-incontinent Phoebe Waller-Bridge and a drily deadpan Cate Blanchett ensured that Staged (BBC One/iPlayer) ended on a starry, hilarious high. In fact, the Fleabag creator’s fictional feud with David Tennant turned out to be the highlight of the entire series. At least, we hope it’s fictional. Otherwise things could get awkward (and not a little damp) when they next bump into each other at an awards bash. 

In a climactic double bill, increasingly hirsute thespians Tennant and Michael Sheen found themselves thoroughly, well, upstaged by both their real-life partners and female guest stars. Serves them right for turning into straggly bearded man-babies.

Airing in bite-sized 15-minute episodes, the luvvies-in-lockdown comedy was one of the unexpected TV treats of last summer. What could have been self-indulgent was unexpectedly charming as the lead duo gamely sent themselves up as petulant, egotistical thesps. 

Exaggerating their real-life friendship, they had warm chemistry, snide spikiness and a willingness to ridicule each other which felt entirely unforced. Playful direction toyed with the Zoom format, while the show’s sense of the mildly surreal somehow chimed with the strangeness of pandemic life. 

This second series riffed on the success of the first. Writer and director Simon Evans went to Hollywood to work on an American remake of the show – except Tennant and Sheen weren’t invited to reprise their roles. They sulked, squabbled and toys flew out of prams as they were asked to read with potential new cast members.

The penultimate episode was comfortably the best. Titled The Loo Recluse, it found our anti-heroes gatecrashing a video call with their replacements and being shocked to learn their identities (“F–k me, it’s Cate Blanchett!”) – especially since they had history with both actresses.

Waller-Bridge, aka “the monologue woman”, refused to be in the same room as Tennant. Fortunately, in an upside of social distancing, this wasn’t an option anyway. It transpired that the pair had worked together on Broadchurch, where Tennant’s elaborate prank involving text alerts and toilet breaks left Waller-Bridge unable to land roles and having to create Fleabag out of desperation. 

The foes snarled down webcams and did amusingly childish impressions of one another. Waller-Bridge told Tennant that he “wouldn’t know a joke if it came on your face” and closed the call with a heartfelt “f–k you”. She swears so well.

Blanchett, meanwhile, turned out to be accidentally responsible for losing Sheen the lead role of Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit. It ultimately went to his nemesis Martin Freeman. When Sheen blamed Blanchett for ruining his career, she told him: “Back off, hairy legs.”

Blanchett was a wryly understated delight. Waller-Bridge was coolly charismatic and brilliantly witty, making a huge splash in a mere seven minutes of camera time. Nearly two years since Fleabag and her Hot Priest parted ways at a bus-stop, her welcome return to our screens had the frisson of feeling like an event.

Other funny moments saw Tennant’s wife Georgia emit a surprised squeak at a rude question and a running joke about that dreaded phrase “long time no see”. This was all bookended by the neat conceit of Sheen and Tennant solving a crossword together. Among the clues was “Lead actor in Staged, 12 letters”. Was it Michael Sheen or David Tennant? Neither. Much to their chagrin, it turned out to be series one guest star Adrian Lester. 

Original Source

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Written by Celebrity Stories

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