Tuesday, July 16

Drop The Dead Donkey: The Reawakening – Leeds Grand Theatre

It is scarcely believable, but once upon a time British TV viewers had the choice of only four terrestrial channels, and Drop The Dead Donkey was an early hit for Channel 4.

It was set in the dysfunctional newsroom of satellite channel Globelink, and its unique selling point was it was recorded just before broadcast so writers Andy Hamilton and Andy Jenkin could slip in some topical gags amongst the mayhem.

For anyone like me who has worked in a TV newsroom it was an unsettlingly accurate portrayal of the damaged flotsam and jetsam who wash up there, with egos running rampant as monstrous presenters smile away onscreen before turning their ire onto the troops. That meant I was a massive fan at the time when you had to be sat in front of your gogglebox to catch your favourite programmes as TV on demand seemed like science fiction.

This live revival brings the surviving members of the old gang back together after a 30-year break as odious king of management gobbledygook Gus Hedges – played with wonderful unself-consciousness by Robert Duncan – tries to set up another newsroom reminiscent of some of the hopeless populist channels currently polluting our current airwaves. Part of the joy is seeing what’s happened to this motley crew, who are older but sadly not any wiser, and even the infamous bear Dimbles get a round of applause.

It’s no surprise a mature audience who were fans first time round greet each returning cast member with applause as they wander onto the Truth TV set as the old gang try to launch another terrible populist channel with the most ironic name ever. The show makes barbed points about the state of today’s wild west media, and it says something that a bunch of fictional hacks who broadcast a photo of Gandhi instead of the PM aren’t anywhere near as bad as the real thing.

The plot about who owns the channel is flimsy, but who cares when razor sharp gags come thick and fast. In the best tradition of the TV show no-one is spared the woke crowd to right wing rentagobs, all delivered by a cast of veterans who know how to time a line, or just raise an eyebrow to get a laugh.

Jeff Rawle rolls back the years as hapless and accident prone news editor George and his battling with a digital coffee machine is comedy gold.  He riffs nicely off old sparring partner Neil Pearson as reformed ladies’ man/gambling addict Dave who remains the newsroom dogsbody. Victoria Wicks is still splendidly haughty and dense as right wing presenter Sally Smedley, and her run-ins with Ingrid Lacey’s razor sharp deputy news editor Helen are fun. 

Stephen Tompkinson is always good value returning as morally bankrupt reporter Damien now in a wheelchair after an accident and he remains totally unreconstructed in a very different world.  Susannah Doyle as former office grump Joy turned HR honcho struts round the stage relishing getting her own back on the hacks. Newcomer Kerena Jagpal more than holds her own in an experienced cast as naive weatherg…reporter Rita.

This could have been a cheap nostalgia trip but in the hands of actors who have decades of comedy experience there are loads of laughs and well-timed sight gags that also interrogate if we can really trust the news these days. And for Drop The Dead Donkey connoisseurs Hamilton and Jenkin throw in plenty of topical gags just like in the old days

For fans like me this proved to be a surprisingly good trip down memory lane with some top-quality performers having great fun revisiting their glory days, and for those who grew up in the digital age there’s still plenty to enjoy as a gaggle of broken people offer up the worst journalism has to offer.

Drop The Dead Donkey is at Leeds Grand Theatre until Saturday 13th April.  To book 0113 2977040 or www.leedsheritagetheatres.com

Reviewer: Paul Clarke

Reviewed: 9th April 2024

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.