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Drop the Dead Donkey: The Reawakening!

Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkin

Hat Trick & Simon Friend Entertainment

The Lowry, Salford

February 13-17, 2024; 2 hours

(also at Leeds Grand April 9-13, Liverpool Playhouse May 14-18, Newcastle Theatre Royal May 21-25)

Ingrid Lacey plays thrusting news chief Helen in Drop the Dead Donkey
Ingrid Lacey plays thrusting news chief Helen in Drop the Dead Donkey

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In the car on the way to see this reborn stage comedy we played “guess the news stories they’ll use” (aspiring comedy writers all). We were all big fans of the multi-award winning 90s TV series, set in GlobeLink’s manic newsroom. 

The gimmick then was that it was recorded a week before transmission, with the final scene often taped just the day before, so the news stories were thrillingly current.

Keir Starmer’s backflip on his Rochdale candidate was going to be a shoo-in, of course; the Israel-Gaza situation less so. Trump and Biden was too easy, really, and one of us had a side bet on Taylor Swift and her NFL footballer boyfriend.

We were mostly right – no place for Swift, sadly – but Drop the Dead Donkey: The Reawakening!, written by the original team of Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkin and starring the surviving original cast members, runs true to form.

The launch of Truth News, with its woke-free agenda and conspiracy theorists is as splendidly chaotic and scarily believable as ever.

Writers Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkin brought their sparkling dialogue from the original TV show and updated it for the digital age, weaving in AI, fake news, digital channels and general news whizz-bangery. We are caught-up on the intervening 30 years too: news editor George (Jeff Rawle) catching Covid in Wuhan; dodgy royal romantic shenanigans; Damian (Stephen Tompkinson) the fearless reporter who paid the price for being too close to the action in a war zone (or not).

We also get some wonderfully inappropriate “bants” about gender, sexuality, disability, sexism, racism – you name it, CEO Gus Hedges (Robert Duncan) mangles it.

Despite all this the production, directed by Derek Bond, feels a little underpowered – the price we pay, perhaps for gathering a team of game but ageing hacks to run a fast-moving operation like a play based in a TV newsroom...

As ever Neil ePearson, as Dave, holds the centre, sparring with Victoria Wicks (Sally) Ingrid Lacey (Helen), Julia Hills (Mairead) and Susanna Doyle (promoted to the dizzy heights of head of HR). Kerena Jagpal, as Rita the “token brown face”, is underused – though of course the unpaid intern hanging about without much to do is an office truism.   

In the end the central news theme turns out to be North Korea, and while there are some excellent running gags, it does seem just a touch left-field rather than full-on newscentric.

Peter McKintosh’s glass-walled, hot-desk set kept the cast circulating nicely, with a malevolent coffee machine getting star billing. His costume designsm, too, are spot on – Sally’s “Chanel” suit, and George’s cardigan seem like old friends.

The audience reaction to the piece is equally comfortable and undemanding, with a warm response to the final tribute to David Swift, who played presenter Henry Davenport in the TV show and died in 2016, and Haydn Gwynne, lynchpin of the original series as deputy editor Alex, who had been due to join this ensemble but died, after a sudden illness, last September.

More info and tickets here


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