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Drop The Dead Donkey: The Reawakening review (The Marlowe Theatre)

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The Channel 4 TV series ‘Drop The Dead Donkey’ was hugely successful in the 1990s and ran for 6 seasons, broadcasting the antics of the fictional GlobeLink News team to sitting rooms across the nation. It made household names out of actors such as the late Haydn Gwynne, Stephen Tompkinson and Neil Pearson, and gained a loyal fanbase. With writing by Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkin (Outnumbered), the original cast are reuniting for the first time since 1998, this time in a live theatre show ‘Drop The Dead Donkey: The Reawakening’ which is currently touring the UK. This week the production is based at the Marlowe Theatre in Canterbury and on Tuesday night I had the opportunity to review it. Even though I am too young to have actually watched the series live, I always welcome the chance to see new touring theatre and liked the sound of the chaotic, news-station-gone-wrong concept.

About the play

The play is set in the present day, with the former staff of GlobeLink News mysteriously receiving new job offers at a startup news corporation called ‘Truth News’. Upon arrival on stage, each performer receives a cheer from the audience, and quickly steps back into their roles as editors and anchors. It has been a long time since the cast have all been together and it makes for an exciting reunion.

Drop The Dead Donkey: The Reawakening leaflet outside The Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury

Once reunited, including the addition of the ‘token young person’ Rita (Kerena Jagpal) who is the new weather presenter, we learn that Truth is to debut imminently as an emerging news programme. It is heavily influenced by a mysterious algorithm that looks for specific trends. The biassed story selection grabs the attention of the news veterans: Helen (Ingrid Lacey), George (Jeff Rawle) and Dave (Neil Pearson), and they set out to discover who is behind their new healthy pay packets.

First impressions

The initial reunion was clearly a nostalgic moment, but it was lost on me without any prior knowledge of the characters. In a way it feels like newcomers can’t tap into the energy levels of the first act, as personalities are just assumed and not reintroduced. That being said, I did manage to work out who was who and discover how they all make up the news team later on.

Drop The Dead Donkey: The Reawakening set at The Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury

The comedy style is also a little shocking, with the jokes and punchlines quite far away from where society is now. The writing pokes fun at younger generations, referencing terms like ‘snowflake’ in a satirical way. The jokes fit with the tone of the show given that it has a nineties fanbase, but in places I found it to go too far.

Generational adjustments

I am not the target audience of this play, but that being said, outside of the underlying humour, I appreciated how the creative team have made adjustments to move it into the present day. A lot has changed since the 1990s and even though the comedy feels a little dated at times, watching as a twenty-something, it was nice to see some contemporary references to fake news and the consumption of information on social media. There are also lots of gags about current affairs from as recent as the last few weeks, which is a welcome surprise.

Drop The Dead Donkey: The Reawakening brochure outside The Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury

Breaking news-themed set design

A highlight is the newsroom-inspired set design, with its attention-grabbing reds and blues. Often I find that screens are overused in touring theatre, but in this play the combination of a digital bulletin screen and static newsroom set really works. It helps to visualise the breaking news segments and displays ‘real time’ posts to a Twitter/X-like feed. It is a brilliant addition to the production’s visuals and adds some anticipation between scene transitions.

Effortless cast performances

I could not fault the cast performances, who brought the memorable characters to life with ease. I also found the character relationships to be really authentic and an example of how natural the reunion is. The company clearly has experience both working collectively and recreating this ensemble of characters.

Drop The Dead Donkey: The Reawakening finale at The Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury

Overall thoughts

Generationally, the humour isn’t to my taste, but the set design, cast performances and underlying themes of fake news and social media make ‘Drop The Dead Donkey: The Reawakening’ worth a watch. To get optimum enjoyment out of the production, I do believe that you need to have watched the source material, but this is largely because the first act heavily covers the reconnection of the former team after so much time. Regardless, the show is bound to make audiences reflect on how the world consumes news in 2024, particularly in the current election climate. The play is based in Canterbury until Saturday 15th June, with last minute tickets available via the theatre’s website.

Thanks for reading my blog today.

Love Kat xxxx

*My ticket for Drop The Dead Donkey: The Reawakening review was gifted in exchange for an unbiased review.



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