DramaFeaturedNorth East & YorkshireReview

Drop the Dead Donkey: The Reawakening! – Lyceum Theatre, Sheffield

Reviewer: Ray Taylor

Writers: Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkin

Director: Derek Bond

Drop The Dead Donkey: The Reawakening! is a reimagining of the iconic BAFTA and EMMY award-winning comedy series first broadcast on Channel 4 in the 1990’s. Written by the same award-winning writing team of Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkin and reuniting most of the original cast, it portrays the cutthroat world of 24 hour news that is riotously satirical and very topical. This is classic comedy gold that will delight the legions of original fans as well as entertain a whole new generation who may have been wondering what all the fuss was about.

The whole premise of the original show, set in the world of Globelink News, was about portraying current news warts-and-all in an allegedly very professional and politically correct fashion and abysmally failing to do so that was hilariously funny, eye watering and toe curling in equal measure. The show always prided itself on being very topical and up to date with whatever news was hitting the headlines at the time and this revival does the same, with many jokes alluding to current political figures and situations as well as the Royal family featuring heavily. There is a whole succession of laugh out loud one-liners that hit the mark and are greatly appreciated by a rapturous audience. And yes – Dimbles the teddy bear also features in the show much to the delight of the audience and if you don’t know it’s significance then seek out the very first episode of Season 1 which is still available to watch free on All Four (as is the complete six seasons). The success and popularity of current TV shows like Have I Got News For YouandMock The Week and publications like Private Eye demonstrate that there is still an appetite for witty and eye-catching commentaries on what is making the headlines and that people enjoy seeing the world in a less serious light.

The cast appear to have a great time being reunited and one of the show’s strengths is the rapport between the various characters and the razor sharp dialogue of the writing team. Original members Robert Duncan (Gus), Neil Pearson (Dave), Stephen Tompkinson (Damien), Jeff Rawle (George), Ingrid Lacey (Helen), Victoria Wicks (Sally Smedley) and Susannah Doyle (Joy) are joined by relative newcomer Kerena Jagpal (Rita) and quickly succeed in establishing their characteristic traits and relationships. Each returning cast member receives his or her own applause on entrance like being reunited with an old friend and the whole show has an air of a class reunion that quickly makes up for lost time and proceeds apace with new jokes and scenarios that are simultaneously familiar and fresh. All the cast excel in their roles and it would be churlish to single out individuals. All of them are on stage for the majority of the time and all have a succession of laugh out loud moments with perfect delivery. A wheelchair bound Tompkinson delivers a key speech towards the end which brings its own applause and is memorable for a variety of reasons.

The set makes good and effective use of a sliding screen that displays video footage as well as headline messages. The show in fact opens with clips from the original show that immediately brings a whiff of nostalgia to the audience and sets the tone for what is to follow. The staging is of a sleek modern office with state-of-the-art technology that has the habit of malfunctioning to hilarious results – the coffee machine being the prime example. The whole design of the set has glass walls and is the essence of a modern office with new technology designed to suit the modern era. Much of the comedy stems from the characters having to adapt to new ways of working and the way they have to work out the nuances of a modern office is integral to the show.

Incidentally, the phraseDrop The Dead Donkeyrefers to a news item of no real significance, usually of whimsical or sentimental nature, that is placed at the end of a news bulletin or in a newspaper as a filler. You see this all the time in the national news even if the main body of the content has been particularly heavy or serious such as coverage of a war. A dead donkey can often be removed from the programme or publication if a more significant story needs extra time or space.

Ultimately,Drop The Dead Donkey: The Reawakening!is all about the truth behind the headlines and seeks to answer the question ‘What IS truth?’. Blazoned across the front desk in large capital letters, the word TRUTH shines out like something from 1984and some TV journalists attempt to get behind the newspeak and gobbledygook by presenting opinions that are uncensored. In our current age the issue of fake news is often highlighted by certain politicians and now everything has to be fact checked and verified before it can be broadcast (or should be). Propaganda and statistics abound and the thinking person can often despair at trying to discern what exactly IS going on in the world? Yes, the show is achingly funny and perceptive but like all good satire it leaves the audience to think, perhaps, a little more clearly about what is the true state of society.

Runs until 10 February 2024

The Reviews Hub Score

Hilarious and Thoughtful

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The Reviews Hub - Yorkshire & North East

The Yorkshire & North East team is under the editorship of Jacob Bush. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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