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Drop The Dead Donkey: The Reawakening! (Richmond Theatre)

(seen at the second-ever performance on 31st January 2024)

Click here to book for all performances on the tour, including Richmond Theatre 18th to 22nd June 2024.

Compelling television for six series over eight gloriously satirical years from 1990 to 1998. Written almost to the hour of broadcast, in an era where you could laugh about bosses descending to censor output and believe such a time would never come. 

The humour was always sharp, the backchat tearing chunks out of each character, yet never losing the camaraderie that went into delivering the daily output at Globelink News.

For those who haven’t read the spin-off book, Globelink ended in murder at the Millenium, and since then the newshounds have left their kennels for a diverse range of other jobs, dabbling in royalty, politics, crime and game shows.

The new stage adaptation opens in a new office (computers by Fujitsu, of course), in a new outfit called TRUTHnews. Enter George (Jeff Rawle), who has been headhunted on a really good salary to work there. As other former Globelink cast members arrive (each stopping the show for applause) we learn their back-histories since we last met, and find out that Gus (Robert Duncan) was using voice-changing software to approach each of the gang individually with offers they could not afford to refuse.

As AI throws up increasingly bizarre news story combinations and chaotic rehearsals lead to an even more chaotic launch, the bickering, topical jokes and old characters fly. The big question is, who owns the station and why are they doing it? Can newcomer Mairead (Julia Hills) unravel all?

Original writers Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkin pick up like it was yesterday. The characters are older, battered by life and reality TV. Every one of them instantly recognisable and you know the writing is quality when the running gag is about a coffee machine, and a blindingly obvious old trope set up by Damian (Stephen Tompkinson) still has the audience gasping in shocked delight at the end.

Joy (Susannah Doyle) remains able to fill menacingly bike leathers like no other, an eyeball swivel enough to have even the front row cowering - let alone the co-workers she now provides Human Resources for. The best lines are still hers, an unforgettable classic Jeremy Clarkson bit dropped casually as a nuclear bomb, and twisted reasoning ensuring her job will always remain, island retreat or no.

What is there to say about the rest? Neil Pearson as Dave finds a world-weariness in the indefatigable womanising boozer. The old double act with Damian is there, as is Damian’s double act with Dimbles – given the honour of opening the whole piece and taking the final bow too. Tompkinson himself plays a remarkable emotional range, exploring a new dimension of the formerly fearless reporter.

Robert Duncan as Gus has evolved to become true captain... of the Titanic. Happily steering at every iceberg he can find, devious in explaining his course as ever, and madder than a Remainer on 24th June.

The years have treated his erstwhile editor with the delicacy of a crossbow at an albatross. George remains a shambling figure, lucky as a rabbit with amputated paws, Jeff Rawle comfortable as his cardigan with the role, even warmer for us to appreciate just how fine his performance is.

Spikier, Victoria Wicks obviously relishes reuniting with Sally Smedley, chief newsreader who must speak first. Wicks must have carried Smedley with her all these years, as her reading changes not a single iota from the original. Nothing penetrates that ridiculously thick armour, and yet everything goes right through, perfectly judged – even if her American agent says so herself.

Helen (Ingrid Lacey) by contrast has seen her path crumble and is grasping this final straw tightest of all. Her reliable lifeboat is holed, Lacey shudders and still signals she is carrying on while making the weight tell.

There are also two delicious newcomers. Julia Hills as Mairead is a well-known investigative journalist, Hills giving her a manic edge which dovetails just fine with the lunatics she is joining.

Young Rita is the new weathergirl, er, person. Kerena Jagpal never runs out of incredulous looks, innocent reactions and common sense belying her 19 years. That the asylum soon takes care of that is a given.

Stretching what used to be 23 minutes of teleplay to two hours either side of a fifteen minute break is achieved with few lags of script and director Derek Bond insisting on a pace suited to a cast used to playing together, accomplished on stage and able to move a little slower at will.

Peter McKintosh manages a sleek office space (a friend of the monkey delighted that the view from the window showed their actual workplace), with a video screen for Dan Light to transmit video and tweets between scenes.

A beautiful final moment has it, the cast beneath and all watching, remembering dear departed Henry Davenport (David Swift) and Alex Pates (Haydn Gwynne). Their spirit is with us, just as us fans have kept the faith all these years to be rewarded.

You know it is fun when the audience are trading lines on the way in, at the interval and after, among friends and simply strangers whom they just met and are instantly bonded though the love of the show.

In truth, there could have been a stronger ending, and there seems a little less space for topicality than might be expected – though it saves a lot of quick learning of course. Still, this is for fans of the original television series most of all – a five star treat for them.

If you know nothing of the original, it is still a more than amusing swipe at our connected world of today, written and delivered by experts, with the impact of the tragic abandoned remains of a child’s teddy bear.

4 stars.


The tour continues, with a return London date at Richmond Theatre from 18th to 22nd June 2024.
Click here to book for all performances on the tour.

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