Review: Drop The Dead Donkey: The Reawakening!, Richmond Theatre

Thirty years on from the TV show, Drop The Dead Donkey: The Reawakening! reunites much of the original cast at Richmond Theatre

“Your new teammates are your old teammates”

If there were any doubt about how much nostalgia is at play in Drop The Dead Donkey: The Reawakening!, each of original cast members Stephen Tompkinson, Neil Pearson, Susannah Doyle, Robert Duncan, Ingrid Lacey, Jeff Rawle and Victoria Wicks got a round of applause as they took to the stage one by one at Richmond Theatre. And fair enough, 30 years down the line, it is a revival that has been a long time in the making (a lovely tribute to the late David Swift and Haydn Gwynne flashes up at the end) for this iconic 90s TV show, combining to-the-minute responses to the news with biting satire and troubled office politics.

It’s not just the cast returning either – the show’s creators Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkin are on writing duty once again and in terms of the show’s topicality, they hit the mark with lambasting Sunak and Starmer in equal measure. Their targets also range from giving Holly Willoughby a deservedly good ribbing to even being unafraid to touch David Attenborough and poor Trevor McDonald. There’s even a decent joke about pronouns, though there’s something dispiritingly lazy about their assaults on inclusive toilet signs and Greta Thunberg and to be honest, Matt Hancock already feels like yesterday’s punchline.

The Reawakening’s core storyline centres on the old Globelink News team being unexpectedly reunited when they’re all hired to join Truth News, a start-up news channel and would-be outrage merchants, in the style of TalkTV or GB News. Given how difficult it is to satirise such shonky organisations, the show wisely steers clear of any direct comparison, focusing instead on the difficulties the team face in trying to fit into the cut-throat modern news cycle in a climate of fake news and declining viewership. And with shenanigans going on around them, there’s also the question of where their ethical line exists, if at all.

Jeff Rawle’s George remains hapless, Ingrid Lacey’s Helen pragmatic as ever, Susannah Doyle’s Joy still has a way with a withering glance, Victoria Wicks’ Sally continues to be brilliantly awful. Stephen Tompkinson is excellent as a more embittered Damien, the former ace reporter now in a wheelchair, Robert Duncan’s oleaginous Gus feels prescient in his grasping way and always my fave, Neil Pearson’s rakish Dave remains stirring the pot one way or another. They’re joined by Julia Hills as top investigative reporter-with-a-secret Mairead and Kerena Jagpal’s Rita as the token young person in the team, everyone soon clicking into a recognisable and engaging group dynamic.

Derek Bond’s direction is strongest in the wittier first half, its looser feel and wider target range making it frequently laugh-out-loud funny as these old hands quickly fall into familiar patterns of winding each other up as much as humanly possible. As the storyline ‘proper’ comes more into play, the production becomes more downbeat than droll and thus a touch less interesting. A late flourish in support of ‘genuine’ news is hamfistedly tacked on, then veering into sitcom in its final moments, giving a less-than-satisfactory ending on multiple counts which is a real shame as so much of what has gone before deserves better.

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