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Drop the Dead Donkey
Drop the Dead Donkey

Drop the Dead Donkey: The Reawakening! Review

Home » Reviews » Drop the Dead Donkey: The Reawakening! Review

Reunions rarely work, whether school reunions, band reunions or – this case – resurrection of a much-loved comedy classic.

For many people the iconic series Drop the Dead Donkey was synonymous with associated with alternative programming Channel 4. It was topical, funny, larger than life and anarchic.

One of its writers, Andy Hamilton said recently that he and co-writer Guy Jenkin were allowed into the Channel 4 newsroom for a day to get a glimpse into the mechanics of broadcast journalism. Another revelation was that the show was so successful that Channel 4 even proposed screening it every night.

So what to make of this much-trumpeted reunion of the creators and actors of the show? Not a lot unfortunately. For lovers of the show, it’s heart-warming to see the original cast back together again: Robert Duncan as cynical chief exec Gus, Neil Pearson as newsman Dave, Jeff Rawle as laconic editor, and perhaps the actor went on to greatest national acclaim, Stephen Tompkinson as wayward journalist Damien. What is less heart-warming is the show itself, with some slack writing and wafer-thin plot.

Drop the Dead Donkey
Drop the Dead Donkey

The first 20 minutes are taken up with the news crew unexpectedly – including pompous newsreader Sally Smedley (a great performance by Victoria Wicks) – after being offered jobs on a new programme called Truth News. Each character takes the audience through the past 20 years of their career since leaving Globelink, a ploy which plods and could be easily dispensed with.

It is clearly modelled on start-up news channels such as GB News and a huge screen above the stage regales us with a series of tweets about the hopeless launch of Truth News, best buy shambolic amateurism and an attempt to chase ratings through the mysterious ‘algorithm’.

That said, the topical element of the show has been retained and on the first night there was even a reference to Labour’s current political troubles in Rochdale. There are some decent jokes – though not enough – and some surprise revelations about characters (Damien, as ever, is one to keep your eye on.

Drop the Dead Donkey
Drop the Dead Donkey

In terms of the plot – such as it is – it revolves around investigative journalist Mairead (Julia Hills) taking a job at Truth News in an attempt to find out who its mysterious and unknown owners are. It turns out they’re not Russian oligarchs, but the truth is not far off.
One of the joys of the original series was seeing the actors interact on the small screen and bounce off each other in a manic newsroom. Very little of that translates to the stage and it feels like the writers are treading water.

The ending feels limp and contrived, with some slapstick moments which feel oddly out of place. Even this stellar cast fail to lift the material they’ve been given.

For true fans, go back to the original series to remind yourself why it was so funny and biting and one of the defining shows of its generation.

Drop the Dead Donkey: The Reawakening! is at The Lowry, Salford from 13-17 September 2024 before continuing on tour.

Dave Porter
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Dave Porter
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Dave Porter Written by Dave Porter