Drop The Dead Donkey – the Reawakening! Review

Cambridge Arts Theatre, Cambridge – until Saturday 2nd March 2024

Reviewed by Steph Lott


I don’t think I have been at a performance where the whole audience laughed as much as they did at last night’s performance of “Drop the Dead Donkey – the Reawakening!” at the Cambridge Arts Theatre. It was almost a full house and the production’s popularity was probably due to the affection that the original series was viewed with. The impressive turnout indicates that a lot of goodwill remains for this Channel 4 comedy from the 1990s. It was set in the offices of “GlobeLink News” and made use of contemporary news events. The series ended with GlobeLink being closed down.

Now, more than 25 years later, the newsroom sitcom makes a welcome return, this time to the stage. Written once again by creators Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkins, this revival assembled at Cambridge Arts Theatre under Derek Bond’s direction recaptures the sly, cynical magic of the classic series. However, while the potent first half delivers plenty of laughs and gasps, the production unfortunately loses steam somewhat after the interval before rallying for a solid, if not wholly satisfying conclusion. One of the problems is when something that works in a 25-minute format is stretched to, in this case, just under two hours. And in addition, something that was a series is transferred to stage as a one off. Where is it going?

So, the premise is that Gus, the old GlobeLink boss, has taken charge at the brand-new news channel, Truth News. He assembles all the old hands he used to work with in cloak and dagger fashion and one by one we are reunited with editor George, deputy editor Dave, reporter – now newsreader – Damien, newsreader Sally, assistant editor Helen, and HR diva Joy. There is a new face – intern “weathergirl” Rita and also investigative journalist Mairead. The team are tasked with getting Truth News off the ground and producing its first broadcasts. The trouble is this new channel is obsessed with algorithms and social media hits rather than anything remotely related to actual news, and financially supported by some shady unknown backers.

The play wastes no time skewering today’s fast-paced, ethics-deficient media landscape – a rich target that gifted writers Hamilton and Jenkins lambast with glee. The first half gets off to a flying start with snappy dialogue laden with the duo’s trademark black humour landing again and again, guided by Bond’s brisk pacing and the cast’s deft comic timing.

The set design smartly adapts the classic cramped, messy newsroom look to the modern open office concept, peppered with contemporary touches like sweeping digital display boards. Multimedia elements shine at points, such as the faux broadcast snippets interspersed for context, and there’s a very innovative coffee machine!

As the first half closes, Truth News’ staff are locked in ethical confusion over journalistic responsibility versus clickbait sensationalism. There is a disastrous launch night of Truth News. A couple of national treasures do not escape unharmed, either physically or reputationally!

However, things slow after the interval, bogged down by an odd lull. At that point I was wondering how they would bring this to a satisfactory conclusion.

Fortunately, as our heroes scramble to save their journalistic integrity against corrosive corporate forces, the satire bites hard once more. As well as the solid gags, the other pleasure is the cast and the dynamic between them, intact after all these decades.

Despite the lull in the midsection, “Drop the Dead Donkey: The Reawakening!” remains a hilarious tribute three decades in the making. Long-term fans won’t be disappointed by a performance brimming with savage wit, while introducing new audiences to a comedic tour de force.