Review: Drop The Dead Donkey – The Reawakening at Newcastle Theatre Royal

Drop The Dead Donkey – The Reawakening!

Newcastle Theatre Royal

21st May 2024

There is a penchant at the moment for reimagining TV series as stage shows. Fawlty Towers has opened on London’s West End, there is a stage show of Only Fools and Horses touring the UK and only a couple of weeks ago I was delighted to review a version of The Syndicate at this venue which I thoroughly enjoyed. 

Drop the Dead Donkey was a particular favourite of mine when it first aired back in the 90’s on Channel Four. It was unique at the time in that it combined very topical news stories within a sitcom format in a similar way that Have I Got News For You does in the format of a quiz show. Written by Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkin it was very popular and ran for several series. This ‘Reawakening’ as they described it has lost none of its mainly gentle but often cutting wit and for me, it was like putting on a very comforting blanket as I allowed very familiar but much older friends to return into my life. 

With only two obvious and notable exceptions, the original cast has been reassembled and the script that Hamilton and Jenkin have written brings the show wonderfully up to date with nods to several topical issues including scandals involving blood transfusions, the post office and a few digs at many prominent regimes and politicians. 

The show opens with George (Jeff Rawle), the hapless editor, joining a new TV news channel called The Truth and having some difficulties dealing with new technology in the form of a voice activated coffee machine. He is soon joined by Dave (Neil Pearson), Helen (Ingrid Lacey) and gobbledegook extraordinaire CEO Gus (Robert Duncan) to explain why they have all been brought back together. Hot on their heels is newcomer Rita (Kerena Jagpal) as weather girl, sorry presenter Rita, Joy (Susannah Doyle), Mairead (Julia Hills), and prissy senior news reporter Sally (Victoria Wicks.) Each was welcomed with a warm round of applause with the most voluminous being reserved, of course, for newshound and charlatan Damien Day (Stephen Tompkinson.)

The set is simple and resembles a news channel studio. I do not think anyone deserves a Blue Peter badge for working out which news channel the two writers are mercilessly parodying and the plot goes from the sublime to the ridiculous in equal measures quite effortlessly. The script is very clever indeed and accounts for the ageing of the characters but still manages to keep the cutting edge hilarity of the original programme which is testament to the talent of the writers. There is a lovely tribute to the two characters who are no longer with us towards the end of the production which is beautifully observed by the rest of the cast. 

In my review of Kay Mellor’s The Syndicate I spoke of a fond nostalgia. This version of Drop the Dead Donkey is much more than that. It is like the programme has never been off our screens and offered all the laughs, the pathos and the topical and comedically observed news stories of its predecessor and I bow in humble admiration to the cast, writers and creatives for putting together such a wonderful production. There are some poignant nods to the original series, of course there is some nostalgia but it stands on its own as a quality piece of theatre. It would astound me if this does not become a limited TV series in its own right somewhere down the line. 

Drop The Dead Donkey – The Reawakening runs at Newcastle Theatre Royal until Saturday 25th May.

Review by Stephen Stokoe

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