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'Inside No 9' stars Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith tease the new series

Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith in character as The Doctor and Scaramouche in 'Wuthering Heist'. The Doctor wears a tweed jacket, a checked shirt, a red bow tie, a waistcoat and a green mask over the top half of his face. Scaramouche wears an army uniform with a red beret, and a green mask with a large nose over the top half of his face.
Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith as The Doctor and Scaramouche in Wuthering Heist. (Image credit: BBC / Sophie Mutevelian)

Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith are back for Inside No 9 Season 6 — and it's sure to keep fans guessing right up to the closing seconds of each episode.

The first episode of the new series, entitled Wuthering Heist, is the story of Pantalone (guest star Paterson Joseph) and his plan to pull off an audacious diamond robbery, but unfortunately he has recruited a bunch of clowns to assist him. Literal clowns, since the episode is performed in the style of commedia dell'arte, a classical Italian theatre tradition featuring stock characters where most of the actors wear masks.

Steve and Reece, who have written every episode of the series together since it began in 2014, are keeping the secrets of the upcoming series close to their chests as usual, but were willing to tease a few key elements of the new series when we caught up with them for a chat.

Here's what Steve, 53, and Reece, 51, had to say...

Steve Pemberton on the inspiration behind the Wuthering Heist episode

"With Inside No 9, we’re always looking at how we tell the story as well as what the story is, so we wanted to do something with masks. We studied commedia dell’arte when we were at Bretton Hall College, where Reece and I both did Drama degrees, and all of comedy comes from commedia dell’arte really. They would wear masks for most of the characters, and we wanted to do something with that, but we thought if we did it on its own it might be too theatrical, so we looked up who else wears masks? Gangs who are doing heists! We put those two things together and thought it would be a really potent mix of quite aggressive, dark, heist gangstery stuff and the very light physical comedy of commedia dell’arte

"We really had no idea how we were going to do it until we actually turned up on set and got the costumes and the masks and the group of actors together. We weren’t sure what we were doing, so it was a leap of faith, really, but it’s an episode we’re really proud of, and it’s what Inside No 9 is all about — experimentation."

Gemma Whelan as Columbina and Kevin Bishop in a glum-looking red mask as Arlo

Wuthering Heist guest stars Gemma Whelan and Kevin Bishop. (Image credit: BBC / Sophie Mutevelian)

Reece Shearsmith on the episodes of Season 6

"We always have to pass the test of thinking ‘have we done this idea before in another episode?’. We’ve done so many different stories now, so that’s one of the first port of calls, to think ‘is it not just a new story but a new way of telling the story as well?’ We’ve got, again, a lot of archetypal human foibles: people concerned in one episode about infidelity, we’ve got a man trying to help an old man, a relationship between a nurse and his patient, and so lots of different stories that I think will intrigue people. 

"We’ve got one that’s all set backstage of filming, the mundanity that filming actually is, it sort of exposes the grind of just sitting, waiting to do your little bit, if you’re a bit actor in a thing. We always like to try and do an industry one and we enjoyed doing that one. We’ve got one that’s about a relationship between the creator of a television programme and a fan, and we’re exploring the relationship between the fan and the creator, and that dynamic of ownership — when does a thing become so big that the fans then take control? That was an interesting dynamic for us to explore. 

"There's one that’s all set to music at the Proms, which is, again, a different way of telling the story, a lot of it is through the music, and we really wanted to sort of play that to the hilt. All of these are now ruined! [laughs] Because the best thing is to go in not knowing anything about it, so I’m going to shut up and not tell you any more..."

Steve on how COVID-19 impacted the filming of Inside No 9 Season 6

"We pushed some of the ones we were going to film [for Season 6] into series seven, and filmed some of the ones we wrote during lockdown, which were perhaps smaller casts, and we were able to film them on sets, in a studio where you’ve got more air and space around you. We jiggled around with which episodes we shot, but once you’re filming a scene, other than the crew being distanced and bubbled, and having masks on, in front of the camera you’ve just got to do it the same way. 

"We didn’t want it to be ‘the pandemic series’, which is looked back on in years to come as being obviously influenced by the pandemic, and we didn’t want to write about Covid or anything to do with that, we just wanted escapism."

Reece Shearsmith as Simon, standing in half-shadow behind Steve Pemberton as Spencer Maguire at the forefront of the picture with his arms folded, in episode two, 'Simon Says'

Reece and Steve as Simon and Spencer in the second Simon Says. (Image credit: BBC / Sophie Mutevelian)

Reece and Steve on assembling their guest casts

Reece: "We get people telling us that they would like to do it, via the agents, so we’ve had a few people come and say, ‘oh, if there’s ever a part, I’d love to do it’ — surprising people. Once we get the scripts, then we start thinking about who would be good in the parts, and we try to not go down the obvious routes. I can imagine it’s appealing for an actor to want to come and do one, because they’re five days [of filming], and you’re in and out, and it’s usually a good script and we usually want to give them a good part. 

Being actors ourselves, we know that even if it’s a smallish part, you’ve just got to hook them in with one good bit, so we always do a pass where we think, ‘if you’re an actor and you got this part, why would you do it?'. It’s got to have something about it, so we try to attract people in by giving them one little good bit. Because we always play the main two — although not, actually, increasingly we just sort of write the scripts and then if there’s a part, we’ll take a back seat and then we can get a bigger person to do it, because oftentimes we are taking up all the lion’s share. It’s been nice, increasingly, that the reputation of the show has made it easier for us to get good people."

Steve: "As Reece said, we had an episode which involved filming, we wanted an actor to come in and play themselves as an actor, so that’s what Adrian Dunbar has done. We cast him because he had put in a request! He said, ‘I’d love to be involved’, so we wrote Adrian into one of our episodes, and it’s been fantastic — he was such a good sport about it. It was a bit hairy with the scheduling [with Line Of Duty], but he came and did it and was absolutely brilliant. And he said, ‘oh, all that lot on Line Of Duty, they all want to be in it’ — so we’ll work our way through them eventually!"

The first episode of Inside No 9 will air on BBC2  and BBC iPlayer on Monday 10 May at 9.30pm.