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Drop the Dead Donkey: The Reawakening! at Richmond Theatre

Drop the Dead Donkey: The Reawakening! is drop-dead funny. Just as tragedy functions to give us release through catharsis so comedy gives us release through a shudder that goes through the whole body. There is nothing like a good laugh to reboot our immune system. I went through the whole comedic response from smile, to chuckle, to involuntary shoulder jerks and finally the full-on all-over body laugh.

Drop the Dead Donkey: The Reawakening! Photo credit: Manuel Harlan.
Drop the Dead Donkey: The Reawakening! Photo credit: Manuel Harlan.

Given what we’ve all been through – Brexit, Trump, Covid, War – it was just what the Dr ordered. First aired on TV in 1990 Drop the Dead Donkey returns after 35 years with the original cast and is as incisive, satirical and topical as ever, indeed more so as the writers – the duo Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkin – are if anything better and funnier than they were in 1990. Set in a newsroom the show perfectly captures the bizarre world we all now inhabit; 24-hour rolling news, fake news, opinions over facts, AI, social media, microaggressions, office politics, gender wars, unpaid internships, “Star” presenters, dodgy money and so on. Whilst these issues in real life have, as it were, problematised the public realm, the wonderful achievement of Drop the Dead Donkey is its ability to make fun of and laugh at the absurdities of our current situation. And that’s because the writing is highly sophisticated, highly intelligent but above all highly inventive. The take Hamilton and Jenkin have on our world is unique. Drop the Dead Donkey is a melange of The Office, Not the Nine O’Clock News, and Have I Got News for You. It’s engaging, entertaining and exhilarating.

The nine-strong cast is hugely impressive. It’s the A-list of Britain’s comic talent; Jeff Rawle, Victoria Wicks and Robert Duncan to name but three. Director Derek Bond has chosen his team so that the sum is so much greater than the parts. Because all nine are so talented and watchable there is never a dull moment as we switch from one comic mishap to the next. The jokes just keep coming and every scene has something to laugh at or about. The momentum is established early and never ceases. It carries us through the two hours so much so that I was left wanting more. The witty dialogue is so rich it’s impossible to fully appreciate it all in one viewing. I’m definitely going back. The visual comedy is an absolute joy.

Watch out for the scene with Sir Trevor McDonald. But it’s not just the witty dialogue or the stunning visual jokes that makes Drop the Dead Donkey so compelling it’s that on top of this there is a very brilliant and insightful critique of our news culture. The running joke about where the money for Truth News is coming from – North Korea, Russia, Elon Musk – is only one of the many direct hits the show manages to strike. Robert Duncan’s attempt to explain what an algorithm is as the hapless CEO of Truth News is pure comedy gold. The intense rivalries between the journalists are brilliantly dramatised. The two lead presenters Sally Smedley – superbly played by Victoria Wicks – and Stephen Tompkinson’s Damien bickering over who gets to speak first a delightful example of journalistic ego mania. Jeff Rawle’s ineffectual editor but not really editor is a wonderfully realised study of a Walter Mittyesque fantasist.

The show is hugely effective in hitting its satirical targets and doing so with great wit and invention. The audience can join up the dots. Satire works best when the audience has some work to do. The writers must trust in the work. Otherwise, the risk is agitprop. Unfortunately, I felt the show fell into this trap in a couple of places. Especially the finale which became a cri de coeur for objective truth-based journalism. This was unnecessary. Any audience member who had watched the show could make those connections unprompted by explicit directions. Trust the art, trust the audience.

4 stars

Review by John O’Brien

Starring the original cast members Susannah Doyle, Robert Duncan, Ingrid Lacey, Neil Pearson, Jeff Rawle, Stephen Tompkinson and Victoria Wicks, the iconic BAFTA and EMMY award-winning comedy is reimagined in this brand-new topical commentary on the cutthroat world of 24 hours news.

Bursting with razor-sharp wit and classic British humour, this hot off the press production will leave you in stitches. Written by the same award-winning writing team Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkin (Outnumbered), Drop The Dead Donkey: The Reawakening! exposes the underside of the broadcasting industry in all its riotous glory. Whether you’re one of the legions of die-hard fans of the TV sitcom that was watched by millions at its peak, or a British comedy fanatic, come and experience this hilarious revival of an all-time comedy classic.

Richmond Theatre
18 to 22 June 2024

Book Tickets for Shows at Richmond Theatre


  • John OBrien

    JOHN O’BRIEN born in London in 1960 is a born and bred Londoner. His mother was an illiterate Irish traveller. His early years were spent in Ladbroke Grove. He was born at number 40 Lancaster Road. In 1967 the family was rehoused in Hackney. He attended Brooke House School for Boys in Clapton, - as did Lord Sugar. He became head boy and was the first person in his family to make it to university, gaining a place at Goldsmiths College in 1978. He took a degree in Sociology and a PGCE . From 1982 until 1993 he taught at schools in Hackney and Richmond. In 1984-85 he attended Bristol University where he gained a Diploma in Social Administration. From 1985 until 1989 he studied part-time in the evenings for a degree in English Literature at Birkbeck College. He stayed on at Birkbeck from 1990-1992 to study for an MA in Modern English Literature. He left teaching in 1993 and has worked as a tutor, researcher, writer and tour guide. He leads bespoke guided tours on London’s history, art , architecture and culture. He has attended numerous courses at Oxford University - Exeter College, Rewley House & Kellogg College. In London, he attends courses at Gresham College, The National Gallery, The British Museum, The Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, The British Academy and The Royal Society. Read the latest London theatre reviews by all reviewers.

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